Venus in Fur – Project Arts Centre – Review
by Frank L.
05 Feb – 08 Feb
Venus in Fur (part of Rough Magic SEEDS Showcase) is written by David Ives
This play is set in contemporary New York City. Thomas (Peter Coonan) is at the end of his tether having spent the day watching a stream of young actresses audition unsuccessfully for the part of Wanda in his new play “Venus in Fur”, which is an adaptation of the 1870 novel by one Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. He is just about to leave when Vanda (Sarah Morris) barges in to audition for the part. He tries to explain that the auditions are finished but she is not to be denied. By the sheer chutzpah of her personality, she manages to force Thomas to hear the beginning of her audition. Thomas gradually becomes more intrigued as they perform various scenes from the play, which are needless to say sadomasochistic or in Vanda’s more direct style just simple “porn”. Now and again they are interrupted by unwanted telephone calls from Stacy, Thomas’s partner. These various elements come together to create a delicious cocktail of comedy without losing sight of the shifting power-play between Thomas and Vanda.
The action takes place in a non-descript redundant commercial space which is now used for rehearsals and auditions. On one side of the stage, there is a pipe which stretches from floor to ceiling and behind it a large contemporary desk strewn with papers. Opposite the desk, there stands an elaborate Victorian sofa of irregular form. It looks incongruous as it should do. The back wall consists of fine strips of material which hang from the ceiling and are attached to the floor. They make for an elegant backdrop but they turn out during the course of the play to be more than mere decoration.
Ives’ script is razor-sharp and gives both Coonan and Morris fine material to show their talents, in particular, the part of Vanda is a challenging role for a young actress. She has to move from being a bit of a scatterbrain who arrives late for an audition to being, with several hiccoughs along the way, an all-powerful dominatrix. Morris rose to the challenge as did Coonan as he correspondingly loses control of the situation. But these shifts in power do not take place in a linear way, there are many hesitations and deviations. One of the challenges they both have to contend with are accents and to a non-American ear, they appear to have surmounted this hurdle. In this regard, part of director Olivia Songer’s CV includes time spent in New York, so no doubt she was fine-tuned to this issue.
Ives’ play is a delight. It premiered in 2010 and was later converted to the screen by Roman Polanski in 2013. The whole team at Rough Magic Seeds is to be congratulated for bringing this funny, sophisticated and topical play to Dublin audiences. At one level of categorisation, it could be described as a bedroom farce but it is so much more than that. It is a funny, subtle play within a play with many twists and turns and fine observations that are relevant to the dynamics between the sexes. It is to be celebrated and enjoyed.