VENUS IN FUR
20/08/2016 - 18/09/2016
A sultry exposé of sexual power
“90 minutes of good, kinky fun” – The New York Times
“Spend the night with Venus in Fur. It’s one hookup you won’t regret.” – Toronto Star
“[You] won’t see a funnier play…or a smarter one.” – Wall Street Journal
“You want funny? You want sexy? Then you’ll want to see Venus in Fur.” – New Jersey Newsroom
Auckland Theatre Company’s penultimate show of the 2016 season is a sexy, provocative and hilarious work by American playwright, David Ives. Venus in Fur, starring Morgana O’Reilly and Craig Hall, is a laugh-out-loud exposé of the politics of sex and power.
The play opens with Thomas, a New York writer and director who is planning to stage his new play, Venus in Furs, based on Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s 19th century erotic novella. At the end of the day’s auditions, Thomas laments his failure to find that elusive perfect lead actress.
Cue thunder and lightning: in tumbles Vanda – she’s late, and pretty much like all the other young wannabes – vapid, needy and crude. Not what Thomas is looking for.
She’s also soaked to the skin.
As Vanda strips out of her wet clothes and wriggles into a period costume, she persuades Thomas to hear her out. What begins as a straightforward audition quickly becomes an all-engrossing battle of wits as Thomas and Vanda flip between the make-believe world of the script and the too-close-for-comfort reality.
Clever and provocative, Venus in Fur tests the boundaries between dominance and submission.
Ives has a superb knack of keeping an audience guessing. He is widely celebrated for his fast-paced comic one-act plays. Venus in Fur‘s play-within-a-play structure provides a brilliant thriller plot that twists and writhes into a dark, sexy comedy.
Venus in Fur opened on Broadway in 2011, quickly extending its season and winning a Tony Award. In the 2013-14 it held the remarkable position of being the most produced contemporary play in the US.
Starring in Venus in Fur are two of the hottest contemporary New Zealand actors – Morgana O’Reilly (Billy, Nothing Trivial, Neighbours) and Craig Hall (A Place to Call Home (Aus.), The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Outrageous Fortune)
Director Shane Bosher is no stranger to both sides of the spotlight – he was Artistic Director of Silo Theatre for 13 years and is currently busily directing shows in Australia. For ATC he was last seen onstage in the Oliver Driver-directed Jesus Christ Superstar.
Venus in Fur
Herald Theatre, Aotea Square
18 August – 18 September, 2016
Booking info: www.atc.co.nz or 09 309 3395
Vanda: Morgana O'Reilly
Thomas: Craig Hall
Shane Bosher: Director
Rachael Walker: Set Design
Elizabeth Whiting: Costume Design
Paul McLaney: Sound Design
Sean Lynch: Lighting Design
Review by Matt Baker 23rd Aug 2016
It turned Nina Arianda into an overnight success, her performance earning her the 2012 Tony Award for Best Actress. In 2013 it became the most produced play that year with 22 productions. And its origin is found in a 19th century German S&M novella. At least that’s how Vanda Jordan, a brazen and uncouth, yet inarguably fascinating, actress refers to the work that inspired the play-within-the-play to its adapter, Thomas Novachek.
Austrian author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch could never have expected Venus in Furs (plural), which exists as its own story-within-a-story, to result in an eponymous sexual condition, no more than he could that an American playwright by the name of David Ives would take inspiration from it and its narrative-framing to write one of the most successful international two-hander plays 140 years later. [More]
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Kinky costumes steam up stage
Review by Paul Simei-Barton 22nd Aug 2016
If the title Venus in Fur sounds vaguely familiar you could be thinking of Velvet Underground circa 1967 or the 19th century erotic novel by Austrian man-of-letters von Sacher-Masoch that inspired Lou Reed’s song. There are several screen adaptations including a recent Roman Polanski film based on the Broadway hit from American playwright David Ives that ATC has brought to the Herald Theatre.
The multiplicity of inter-related texts testify to an enduring fascination with the disturbing association between pleasure and pain. And David Ives’ post-modern treatment of the topic is densely packed with literary references from The Bacchae of Euripides through to feminist critiques of S&M porn. [More]
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A comic farce suitable for garnering titters and stolen glances
Review by Dione Joseph 21st Aug 2016
Leopold Sacher-Masoch’s 1870 novella Venus in Fur is a literary accomplishment that has held sway over human sensibility ever since it was written. Originally part of a series that was to be called The Legacy of Cain, it was part of the first volume: Love.
But love features little, or so it would seem, in David Ives’ play that had its Off Broadway premiere in 2010. An exhausted playwright and first time director is struggling to find his leading lady for an adaptation of the Sacher-masoch novella. Thomas (Craig Hall) is a smug playwright with a tendency to be frustrated easily by women who have opinions and is weary as the end of his casting session has given him no hope of finding his leading lady.
Thunder crackles and as rain drips outside a gust of wind blows in a late-comer prepped with props, costumes and expletives refusing to take no for an answer. Vanda (Morgan O’Reilly) appears to be no different to any other aspiring actress desperate to have a lead role in a play that might just rocket her career to success. She doesn’t appear to be overly familiar with the script or even with Thomas’ other works but her enthusiasm is infectious.
When she finally does convince her none-too-eager director to allow her to read for him there is an unexpected shift. Suddenly this Vanda – who coincidentally shares her name with the central character of Wanda von Dunajew – transforms before our eyes and what follows in a single act is an exchange that toys with who owns the most sexual power at any given moment.
Herein lies the main issue with this Auckland Theatre Company production. It is not about the talents of the two leads (and Morgana O’Reilly in particular is remarkable) or even Shane Bosher’s meticulous direction but the fact that the narrative fails to realise that it is the charged power-play between two characters that offers heightened erotic appeal – not glimpses of cleavage or black lace.
David Ives’ drama is at best melodramatic and the quasi-realism production with its meta-theatrical element is only further irritated by the fact that Vanda must resort to every trick in the book – again a direction that O’Reilly delivers exceptionally well. Ives’ script explores the murky territory between directors and actors, masters and slaves, men and women, but is so bloated by faux attempts at feminism (without even recognising the multiple forms and expressions of the movement) that its grand finale succeeds only in reiterating clichés – complete with effects.
Both O’Reilly and Craig Hall demonstrate a praiseworthy capacity to slip between the characters they play and those of the script they are reading. Those moments are well executed but still lack conviction and chemistry, occasionally looking no better than a highly polished line-run.
Rachael Walker’s set design is beautifully detailed and replete with Freudian chaise while Elizabeth Whiting’s costumes are fitting the contemporary style of the production as well as its 19th century original novella. Sean Lynch and Paul McLaney lighting and sound designs are seamless – even if the rumbles come a little bit too often and too pat.
Bosher is an exceptionally talented director but the original depth of the novel, which admittedly was never that well translated into the play, has vanished rendering it almost a comic farce suitable for garnering titters and stolen glances.
Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Fur simmers with a dark brooding magic. To appreciate the original author’s creative inquisition into the dynamics between men and women does not require anything more than a relentless desire to pursue the truth. Sadly, in this well directed and performed production, that is nevertheless a quality in scarce supply.
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