Feature: VENUS IN FUR Steams Up New Year at Arizona Rose Theatre

David Ives' scintillating masterpiece opens on January 21 and runs for nine performances.

By: Jan. 01, 2022
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Feature: VENUS IN FUR Steams Up New Year at Arizona Rose Theatre

Some folks can be ostensibly sanguine in the face of disquieting global crises. Take Mark Klugheit, for instance, who is certainly attuned to the tumult of the news cycle, but whose singular antidote to the world's chaos and gloom keeps him in sober perspective: his love for the theater.

When Covid-19 forced businesses to hunker down, Klugheit spent a good chunk of the theater's hiatus in rapt scrutiny of contemporary works. Fortunately, he gets a turn in the director's seat as he launches a new year at Arizona Rose Theatre with a sterling play right up his alley: David Ives' VENUS IN FUR.

I had the privilege of an invitation to a run-through one evening just before the holiday break. I was urged to wear a mask, though everyone was notably vaccinated (and some of us boosted). It signified the director's regard for protocol and the substance of the work ahead. Klugheit is among those who approach the theater as an essential business.

The intimate arena space at Arizona Rose Theatre will soon give way to a makeshift, larger stage, a startling sight to audiences accustomed to sitting in the round. While the central acting area remains, an additional floor is raised and expands to reach the back wall, creating an arrangement akin to a thrust. Klugheit hopes to deploy a staging blueprint that reflects Ives' layered text. A play within a play, VENUS IN FUR is a two-hander that thrives where actors can chart a flexible space to define their varied roles.

The play has made its regional rounds since it first opened off-Broadway a decade ago. Clearly it was luscious enough for Roman Polanski to film an adaptation in French. The script is a cerebral, highly erotic thriller based on the novel by Austrian author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. Feature: VENUS IN FUR Steams Up New Year at Arizona Rose Theatre

Playwright David Ives is perhaps best known for his one-act comedies, but VENUS IN FUR justifies his acumen for a broader range. It begins as a strained interplay between a fretful playwright/director and a high-strung, vulgar actress desperate for an audition. No sooner had they acknowledged their unsuitable chemistry than they found themselves enmeshed in a clever pas de deux that blurs our sense of reality. It's an intellectual dance that unearths a primal game of sexual submission and domination, echoing what happens in the novel. A compelling point of reference: "Masochism" is a word inspired by the author's surname.

Klugheit's fortuitous casting is another good reason to be excited. Seasoned performer Samantha Cormier plays Vanda/Venus; and let's be honest - there's no better talent nearby to fill the role that calls for Cormier's physicality. You want someone who can manage a quicksilver transformation from fluffhead to dominatrix? There she is - funny, irreverent, and deadly sensuous. Feature: VENUS IN FUR Steams Up New Year at Arizona Rose Theatre

David Greenwood finds a brief respite from his work at The Rogue Theatre to assume the role of Thomas Novachek. His part appears tame in contrast to Vanda Jordan's volatile temperament, but audiences will appreciate the actor's planned twists and turns. While Greenwood appreciates the playwright's genius in providing rich, actable moments, he admits to being seriously challenged as he aims to discern the dynamics of power - where and how power shifts, and what's required of him in the realm of subtext and intention.

Below is a brief post-rehearsal discussion with the cast and the director.

BWW: Tell me about Arizona Rose Theatre as a venue and what it's like to work here.

Mark Klugheit: They've had this space for six years, in the (Tucson) mall. Like everybody else, you know, it suffered through Covid and not being able to use the space. Their audience is not the audience that we'll probably get for this play. I hope that we'll get their audience. I guess it's similar to a Gaslight [Theatre] audience - you know, family-oriented. I mean, I directed one play for them, The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged). And it was interesting because it was a cross between the sort of theater world that I know and their audience. We were selling out the show and we extended the run.

BWW: Is VENUS a three-week run?

MK: It's nine shows in two weeks but we have the next weekend free, and if we sell out we're going to extend it to the third weekend.

BWW: Sam, had you and David worked together before?

Samantha Cormier: No, first time.

BWW: What's it like?

SC: Get me outta here! No - David is great. Asks great questions, good partner.

BWW: How long has it been since you've done a two-hander?

SC: Well, it was basically a two-hander with Steve Wood, before Covid. Our run got cut short. RADIANT VERMIN - it was a great script, really intense character as well.

BWW: What about you, David?

David Greenwood: If I had, it was a long time ago. I don't remember doing one recently; not in the last fifteen years or so.

BWW: It must be quite a challenge, right? An entire play where every other line is yours.

SC: Well there's some chunky monologs in it... Essentially three different accents, four different characters that I play: Vanda Jordan (the actress), and then Vanda von Dunayev, and then Venus, and then I play Kushemski at the end. A role reversal.

BWW: Do you like the script?

SC: Yes. David Ives really has a way with words...how he uses them, when he uses them, when not to use them.

BWW: His one-acts are great.

SC: I said this in rehearsal one time. This play - there are parts of it that remind me of that sketch, UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE, a little bit. The double entendres, finding all the gold. The script is jam-packed full of little gems. We did a run-through the other day and it made me realize just how much work I have to do.

BWW: At what point in the play does Thomas decide to let Vanda stay? She's not who he's looking for, and he spends the first few minutes politely trying to get her out so he can go home.

DG: There's one moment where she changes costumes and she's ready to read and he agrees to let her audition. There's some moment there where I still have to discover where exactly that is.

BWW: I see what you mean, and I guess that's more of a why and less of a where question. There's a lot of little moments of discovery that are fun to watch. Thomas says he's a director, not an actor. He could have fooled me. When does he realize that he has stepped into his power as an actor?

DG: We're trying to find where that is.

BWW: And that's what's great about rehearsals like this, right? Mark, what's it like directing actors of their caliber?

MK: I spent fourteen months reading scripts and I came across this script, and I read it, and I said, wow, I'd really like to do it. And I can only do it with incredible actors. It can't be done with B+ actors...I knew Sam would make a good Vanda before I held auditions.

BWW: So did you hold auditions?

MK: I did hold auditions. To give you this short, pithy answer, it's just a pleasure beyond imagination to work with actors of this talent. The script is amazing, and they're amazing.

DG: You know, I was very excited to audition, because other than once in a while reading along at The Rogue with some other actors, I've probably had one audition in 20-25 years. So I was all excited to audition - and I get there and I get the script and Mark says you're gonna read this scene, and my heart started beating and I got so scared and I was so nervous...I forgot my glasses and I couldn't see the script. It was terrible.

BWW: Did you read with someone?

DG: Yes, I did read with Sam. And I read with a couple of other actresses. Luckily Mark gave me plenty of chances to work out some of that "being terrified." There was one point we were holding auditions for The Rogue and Cindy or Joe said, "Hey, can you stop by and read?" And they made this big deal that Samantha was coming to audition...And when Mark mentioned to me that maybe Samantha was gonna to play the part, I thought, Oh my gosh I don't know if I'm good enough.

SC: Oh, shut up!

BWW: I'm really excited to see what you do with this. I also appreciate being able to watch the rehearsal. It's one of the best parts of the show.

MK: I'm glad you got to see this. There's so much in this play...so much of the life in this play is going to come from what you see that we don't have here yet.

SC: The lighting changes, the thunder, the lighting... David Ives is so smart in adding this magical element. One of the lines is, "Was I even here?" Or was it all just a part of your imagination? ...It's funny, it's witty, it's smart.

BWW: Well, I'm so excited to see it develop from here. I'm looking forward to Opening Night.

VENUS IN FUR runs 85 minutes (no intermission). Performances begin Friday, January 21 at 7:00 pm and continue through Sunday, January 30 with evening shows and Saturday and Sunday matinees. All appropriate Covid guidelines will be followed. Tickets are $25, with discounts for Seniors, Students, and Military.

For tickets and exact showtimes and dates, visit: www.arttickets.yapsody.com

For further info contact Mark Klugheit at 520-907-7209 or mklugheit@comcast.net


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