Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Storm Chasers - Venus in Fur - Play Review

Venus in Fur - Canadian Stage Company at Bluma Apel Theatre in the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts - Toronto, ON - ****1/2 (out of 5 stars)

Written by David Ives, Directed by Jennifer Tarver
Runs until Oct. 27th, 2013

When Venus in Fur initially moved to Broadway, much of it was credited to showcasing relative newcomer Nina Arianda in her breakthrough role as Vanda(/Wanda), a seemingly silly and not-that-bright actress crashing in late for an audition in a new adaptation for the play Venus in Fur. David Ives' clever and fun play (with a play within the play) with two great characters and a starmaking role for an actress. Nina Arianda made waves and landed herself the Tony Award (and a role in a Woody Allen film, amongst many) and the play garnered a Tony Award Best Play nomination, landed on my Best of Stage 2011 list, and is now topping the list of the most produced play for this current theatre season.


Now in Toronto, Carly Street and Rick Miller do battle in this play about the power shifting between an actress and a writer/director, a woman and a man, the submissive and dominant, during the audition for a play about the man who coined the term Sado-Masochism. While the tension builds slowly between who truly holds the power in the audition, the sexual tension builds as it overlays on the reading of the play within the play. Is it all just acting? Is it just an intellectual exercise? A game being played out in a simple audition room during a stormy evening.


Carly Street (Bloodless, Clybourne Park) is magnetic as Vanda and half the fun is watching the differences between the actress' personality and her audition performance within the play. Part of it is a bit of a fish-out-of-water charm and the hijinks that ensue, but it gets truly intense when the serious issues of woman empowerment in a man's world begins to bubble through during the audition process.

Rick Miller (MacHomer) holds his own against a much brasher and showier role in Vanda, though much like Hugh Dancy on Broadway, still loses out to the power of a star-in-the-making actress in a star-in-the-making role of Vanda. While the chemistry does eventually ramp up near the end, the back and forth in power balance could be heightened earlier on as you never quite feel Vanda loses the true grip of the situation from the beginning. Still, minor quibbles and something I noted in both versions I saw, so perhaps it is just that Vanda is so well written and so fascinating, it's hard not to feel convinced of her ultimate power.

I still found myself grinning through the whole show, and forgot how funny the play actually is. Despite the sexy and dark themes, and the serious questions posed in sexual relations, Venus in Fur is such a delightful romp, even a set I did not love (though an audition room with a table, chaise, pipe and windows is probably not that much to work with) could not distract me from the great and wonderful performances in a savvy play.

Photos by David Hou
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