BWW Reviews: The Rep's VENUS IN FUR Seduces Body and Soul

A scintillating and sensual evening unfolds for The Rep's first Stiemke Studio production this fall. Award winning playwright and author David Ives presents an intimate, layered portrait of male and female relationships in his Venus in Fur, a play based on Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's 1870 novella Venus in Furs.

While all the publicity might focus on the plays subject of sadomasochism---a term coined by combining the names of the Marquis de Sade and Sacher-Masoch---this production encompasses the great battles between men and women, God and man, antiquity and modernity, and most visibly, love and power.

Ives' two-person play reflects a play within a play, where Thomas (a very attractive version of masculinity embodied by Reese Madigan) stages an audition for a very modern version of Sacher-Masoch's novella. While auditioning actresses for the role of Vanda, the name of the lead in the book, he questions what is femininity?

Enter the lovely Vanda, or Greta Wohlrabe, who in the performance alternates between being a typical "light-weight" blonde and a very astute, professional actress trying to read the role for the disbelieving Thomas. The provocative contrast heightens every conversation and confrontation portrayed in the play so the audience questions what is femininity and how does society prefer their women? Throughout the no intermission evening, Thomas and Vanda ignite a burning desire in their hearts and then evocatively fire the body and soul for the audience.

Madigan and Wolhrabe embody the concepts of masculinity and femininity in multiple ways, whether viewed from the 1800's played in proper white dress and waistcoat or the contemporary bustier, garter belt and thigh high boots, or tight jeans for the man. Again, antiquity contrasts modernity and repressed intimacy for exposed sexuality, all interesting to contemplate.

Director Laura Gordon brings her inimitable talents to these concepts underscoring the production, where deft humor collides with passionate dialogue that flame sensuality. Each scene peels another layer from these multiple elements, without Gordon taking the sexuality to titillation, staying the course to preserve the integrity inherent in the performances and play.

All the steamy action occurs in a New York rehearsal hall, a former factory, which under Scott Davis' scenic design resembles a Greek or Roman temple, with one monolithic "column," reflecting the ancient Doric columns. A column used to great effect in the final scenes where slave is chained for a master. Vanda defines herself by being Greek, pagan, to illustrate that very sophisticated mindset.

Also on stage a solitary divan pays homage to the Greek klismos chair to reinforce these battles waged among the Gods and mortals alike, hence Venus, the Roman God of Love, her Greek counterpart, Aphrodite. Is Vanda on stage mortal or myth, a God? These ideal versions of femininity painted by numerous artists, including Titian's Venus with a Mirror, where the goddess is clothed only in ruby fur, which hints at the meaning to the fur in the title. Or illustrated by Botticelli's classic Birth of Venus.

The stellar production holds too many subtle concepts to share in a short review. An electric 90 minutes present a plethora of ideas worth contemplating after experiencing this highly intellectual production disguised as stunning entertainment. Milwaukee audiences have a unique opportunity to enjoyVenus in Fur, a play at first glance that appears merely sexy, when in fact, hidden beneath the surface, timeless questions regarding how desire, pain and pleasure ignite many human connections are asked and remain unanswered.

The Rep, along with Madigan and Wohlrabe, seduce the audience in this fascinating portrayal of masculine and feminine, love and power, exploring the dynamics between these relationships and how this "plays" out on the stage and everyday life. Venus in Fur provides theater as rich as red sable and complex as Greek mythology, completely too enticing to miss.

The Rep presents Venus in Fur in the Stiemke Studio at the Patty and Jay Baker Theater Complex through November 3. For tickets or information, call 414.290.5376 or

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From This Author Peggy Sue Dunigan

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