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Review Roundup: VENUS IN FUR Starring Hugh Dancy & Nina Arianda

Manhattan Theatre Club's Broadway premiere of VENUS IN FUR, the new play by David Ives, directed by Walter Bobbie opened on November 8 at MTC's Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (261 West 47th Street). The production stars Tony Award nominee Nina Arianda and Emmy Award nominee Hugh Dancy. VENUS IN FUR is a limited 10 week engagement with tickets on sale through Sunday, December 18 only.

VENUS IN FUR is produced on Broadway by Manhattan Theatre Club (Lynne Meadow, Artistic Director; Barry Grove, Executive Producer) by special arrangement with Jon B. PlattScott Landis, and Classic Stage Company. The creative team for VENUS IN FUR includes John Lee Beatty (scenic design), Anita Yavich(costume design), Peter Kaczorowski (lighting design), ACME Sound Partners (sound design), and Thomas Schall (fight direction).

So, what did the critics have to say? Let's find out!

Charles Isherwood, The New York Times: The flickering of those stage lights barely registers beside the incandescent Nina Arianda, the sensational young actress recreating the role that made her a name to watch when she first starred in the play Off Broadway. Portraying an actress giving the audition of a lifetime, Ms. Arianda is giving the first must-see performance of the Broadway season, a bravura turn that burns so brightly you can almost feel the heat on your face. ...  I'm not sure Mr. Ives himself has settled firmly on a resolution to the play's central mystery - the motives and identity of the elusive Vanda - but who cares? With the commanding Ms. Arianda giving a performance of such intoxicating allure, "Venus in Fur" provides a seriously smart and very funny stage seminar on the destabilizing nature of sexual desire: vanilla-flavored, kink-festooned or anything in between.

Mark Kennedy, Associated Press: Dancy's transition from arrogant dictator to needy supplicant is first class, but Tony Award-nominated Arianda is simply fearsome. Her ability to go from dumb to powerful (also on show last season in the Broadway revival of "Born Yesterday") is remarkable and her physicality here, from her Noo Yawk accent to crossing her legs like a longshoreman in a frilly dress, is thrilling. The last line of the play is "Hail, Aphrodite!" but it might as well be "Hail, Arianda!"

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: Trading up from Wes Bentley, her original co-star in the two-character piece, Arianda now has an accomplice/adversary who is every bit her equal. Dancy arguably has never been better. Even if the cat-and-mouse games of Ives' comedy with teeth become too attenuated, the players remain transfixing in Walter Bobbie's mostly vigorous production.

Marilyn Stasio, Variety: "Venus in Fur," David Ives' cheeky adaptation of Leopold Sacher-Masoch's erotic 1870 novel and originally mounted at the Classic Stage Company, improves a lot in this Broadway transfer. Chalk that up to helmer Walter Bobbie's savvy re-casting of one of the players in this two-hander: In his confident turn as a modern-day playwright-director keen on exploring the sado-masochistic sexual dynamic, Hugh Dancy gives hot co-star Nina Arianda someone substantial to play to. Play is still overwritten and pretentious, but it's a whole lot sexier with this well-matched pair taking turns at playing master and slave.

David Sheward, Backstage: But Arianda remains the engine that drives this intermissionless thrill ride, revving on all cylinders as she progresses from desperate actor to imperious seductress to all-powerful goddess. She gets an added fuel injection from her new acting partner. Dancy adds depths to Thomas that the role's originator, Wes Bentley, failed to find. When Vanda begins to step out of the script and literally take control of the situation, Dancy's eyes light up with a weird combination of fear and anticipation. His Thomas is scared out of his wits by the turn of events, but he's also a little excited. Part of him wants to be dominated. This causes the interplay between the two characters to become more heated and dangerous. Arianda takes that spark and uses it to make her already blazing interpretation burn all the brighter.

Joe Dziemianowicz, NY Daily News: Whoever said lightning doesn't strike twice hasn't seen Nina Arianda reprise her breakout role in David Ives' clever but repetitive comedy "Venus in Fur." Playing Vanda, a seemingly ditzy and desperate actress auditioning for a job, she's so funny, smart and sexy that watching her brings unexpected jolts like an electrical shock.

Elisabeth Vincentelli, NY Post:Arianda created her role in the play's off-Broadway premiere last year, and she's only refined it since. Her big entrance, disheveled and cursing for arriving late for her audition, is fantastically funny -- no surprise to those who saw Arianda's Tony-nominated performance in last spring's "Born Yesterday." Vanda is joyously dim and breathlessly vulgar, even as she claims, "Usually I'm really demure and s - - t."

Jeremy Gerard, Bloomberg News: No, the big take-away from playwright David Ives's latest comic free-for-all is the thrill of watching an actress named Nina Arianda -- a brand new, old-fashioned star -- light up the sky.

David Cote, TimeOut: For Broadway, director Walter Bobbie milks the script more; the action clocks in about ten minutes longer than it did at CSC. Although easing up on the accelerator gives us more time to savor the sensual-slapstick dance between Dancy and Arianda, it also means the climactic 20 minutes-as gender roles and power positions sharply flip-grow a tad overindulgently logy. Undaunted, Arianda maintains terrific tension at all times-as well as full comic release.

Thomas Geier, Entertainment Weekly: Theater-goers may experience similar feelings of submission, happily under the spell of Arianda's mesmerizing performance. A-

Linda Winer, Newsday: In blows Vanda, a seeming ditz of neurotic desperation with golden hair down to her black bustier. She just happens to have the same name as the play's character, knows the lines and brought perfect thrift-shop costumes (by Anita Yavich). For almost two nonstop hours, Arianda makes whiplash changes from gawky hopeful to scary siren -- with stops at elegant countess, Jerry Lewis, a deadly spider, a skinny duck, a classic comedian, a grand tragedian, an actress in a revenge fantasy and a goddess who knows the power of bare thigh above a high boot.

Matt Windman, am New York: As a seemingly scatterbrained young actress, Arianda is a total riot. But by the same token, she is completely convincing as the mature, mysterious and controlling figure in Thomas' play. Dancy, who stresses his character's frustrations and uprightness, gets easily seduced - along with the audience itself.

Robert Feldberg, "Venus in Fur" works hard to keep your interest, but it lacks the dramatic development to fully succeed.

Michael Musto, The Village Voice
Her vehicle is not all smoothly entertaining--the play within a play is less riveting than the actor-versus-playwright dynamic, and without an intermission, it's a long sit--but for a pristinely acted literary sex comedy, it's hard to beat Venus In Fur, except with a stick.

Michael Sommers, NJ Newsroom: Dancy's portrayal is handsome but the range of Arianda's fluent performance is astonishing. Arianda's heartbeat transitions between that dizzy Vanda and the elegant dominatrix she depicts are hilarious, even while her glinting eyes hint at a greater force lurking behind those characters. Talk about seductive stage magic: Arianda is one of those chameleons who looks homely at one moment and then gorgeous in the next. Phew. Where do I sign up for the fan club?

Howard Shapiro, Philadelphia Inquirer: Fiery, intense and so sexy you could sweat, the production of David Ives' new Venus in Fur, a sensation when it ran Off-Broadway last year, opened in a remounted production Tuesday on Broadway. Much of the heat comes from a living generator, the actress Nina Arianda, who reprises the role she created downtown in the original production. There's a booster to this furnace - the Broadway actor and film star Hugh Dancy, who is essentially her prey. The two of them deliver performances that bubble, then explode, on the stage of Manhattan Theatre Club's Friedman Theatre.

Brendan Lemon, The Financial Times: For the first half-hour, the parallels are beautifully balanced. If Venus in Fur had been a one-act, I would have rushed to assign it five stars. In saying this, I realise that I am adhering to the standard evaluation of Ives: adept at miniatures. But that judgment is no more disparaging than to say that Alice Munro excels at short stories. Once Ives introduces subplots from Vanda and Thomas's offstage lives - has Thomas's fiancée dispatched Vanda to the audition to test his fidelity? - the narrative begins to sag. The tense, touching performance of Dancy as an uptight intellectual and Arianda's lushly comic turn as the high-energy seductress do not quite compensate for the overextended central conceit.

Jonathan Mandell, The Faster Times: Arianda was subsequently propelled onto Broadway last season playing the part that made Judy Holiday famous, the dumb blonde of "Born Yesterday." Reaction was mixed to that revival, but not to her performance. She has since had small roles in "The Good Wife" on TV and Woody Allen's movie "Midnight in Paris," and now, at 27, Arianda is back in "Venus in Fur," this time on Broadway. She is just as good as she was. Her co-star Hugh Dancy is better than the actor he replaced, hard-charging when on the offense, mesmerizing in his submission, persuasive as a European because he is one. A few things about the play, though, have been lost in the transfer.

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