Monday, March 24, 2014

Venus in Fur

Playwright: David Ives
Venue:  A vacant warehouse, 527 S. Tejon Street, Colorado Springs CO  80903
Running Time:  1 hour, 40 minutes (no intermission)
Date of Performance:  Sunday, March 23, 2014 

"We're all explicable.  What we're not is extricable."
Interesting...but what does it mean?  Playwright David Ives sprinkles this statement into several scenes of Venus in Fur.  
Ives' script is a "play within a play" that blends fantasy, history, literature, drama, and reality into an erotic fog where it is difficult to know for certain who and what we are watching.  Nothing, frankly, is what it seems.
Theatreworks didn't bring Venus in Fur to its home stage (the Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theatre).  The company took a risk and rented a vacant warehouse in a somewhat rundown location south of downtown Colorado Springs.  With no windows, one gets the sense that this setting is perhaps the perfectly discrete dungeon we would imagine for a local S & M club.  (Just in case that was too obscure, S & M refers to sadomasochism here.)  Given the subject matter for Venus in Fur, that may be exactly the impression Theatreworks was hoping to make.
Thomas (Jon Barker) & Vanda (Carley Cornelius)
There are only two characters here:  Thomas (Jon Barker) and Vanda (Carley Cornelius).  Thomas is casting his play, Vanda is late for her audition.  Thomas reluctantly lets her audition.  Vanda reads for the part of "Vanda."  By some odd coincidence, her unusual name is the same as the female lead in Thomas' play.  That would be the first of many "coincidences" to follow.
As the director and the actress read from the script, they slowly become the characters Thomas has created.  They bounce between their roles, first speaking as director and actor, but then as the stage characters.  Sometimes it is easy to tell which they are, but other times the stage characters seem real.  There is a lot of sexual tension; each asks the other at times if he/she is coming on to him/her.  The tension could be part of the script they are reading, or it could be the real characters feeling a spark.
The role confusion here is deliberate.  Ives wants us to wonder who we are watching:  the real people or the characters in a play?  Through clever dialog, we come to wonder who is the stronger, who is the weaker, who will dominate, who will be dominated.  Ultimately, we are left to wonder even who is the man, and who is the woman.  The challenge for the audience is to keep the reality and the fantasy separate despite the constant mixing of the two.
Director Murray Ross has cast two excellent actors here.  They both have the physical beauty needed to make the sexual attraction credible.  Their chemistry is obvious.  Though they just met, they very much want to be with each other.  They verbally thrust and parry with each other, each trying to get the better of the other.  
Must one dominate and one submit?  Or is the entire exercise just play acting?  Ives challenges us to obscure, even erase, the line between fantasy and reality.
"We're all explicable.  What we're not is extricable."
I should try to answer my own question from above.  What does this statement mean?  
My take is that Ives is saying that we can all be explained.   I agree.  In this case, those with S & M behaviors can be explained with a cold, clinical definition:
"Sadism is the sexual pleasure or gratification in the infliction of pain and suffering upon another person.
The counterpart of sadism is masochism, the sexual pleasure or gratification of having pain or suffering inflicted upon the self, often consisting of sexual fantasies or urges for being beaten, humiliated, bound, tortured, or otherwise made to suffer, either as an enhancement to or a substitute for sexual pleasure."
What we cannot do is extricate ourselves from those clinical definitions.  Neither the masochist nor the sadist can be plucked out of his or her fetish of choice.  It's a part of who we are.  
Ives is telling us that Thomas and Vanda cannot deny their attraction or their fantasies.  Again, he's right.  Virtually every aspect and variety of human behavior can be explained, but little of it can be changed.  If it could be changed, we would have no mental illness and little crime.  In exchange, though, we would lose our individuality; we would all be "optimized" to repress our basest characteristics.
Thomas and Vonda both need pain, suffering, and degradation to enhance their lives.  It may not be my cup of tea, but those who drink the tea do the rest of us no harm.  Pain and pleasure are not mutually exclusive; for some, they are different parts of the same sensation.  Consensual sadism and masochism were removed from the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 1994.  
Seeing Thomas voluntarily bound and telling Vanda to "do to me what you will" is kinky, but it's definitely NOT insanity.  
This is a marvelous script, with a gifted cast in the hands of an experienced director.  The result is mesmerizing, even if one is somewhat uncomfortable with the subject.  I don't do spoilers, but I can assure anyone who finds the subject disturbing that Venus in Fur is not pornography, it is not prurient, and it is certainly not obscene.  
It is, rather, excellent theater, and you don't have to be a dominatrix to enjoy excellent theater.  If you love great theater but haven't bought a ticket yet for Venus in Fur, get one before they're gone.  
Venus With A Mirror.  Titian, about 1555.  See more.  

This show obviously includes ADULT content and adult language.  Unless you want to do a lot of explaining to your teenager, leave him or her at home.
There has been renewed interest in this subject since the novel Fifty Shades of Grey came out in 2011.  I haven't read that book.  If you're a fan of Fifty Shades, you are definitely the target audience for Venus in Fur.  If you tried to read the book but found it lacking (and I hear that it IS lacking), you are also the target audience for Venus in Fur.  If you've never heard of Fifty Shades of Grey, you might find Venus in Fur to be a great introduction to a subject you may have long neglected.
There is free parking in lots 1/2 block away, west of Tejon Street.  There is also street parking, but it may be limited.
This show closes on April 13, 2014.  This show is recommended for adults.
Pre or post show dining suggestion:  
McCabe's Tavern (across the street from the venue) at 520 S. Tejon Street is offering a 10% discount to Theatreworks ticket holders.  It's an Irish pub, and the fish & chips are very good.  Harp and Guinness on tap.  (Is that redundant?  It's an Irish pub.)  Stop in and tell them you saw Venus in Fur.  Our waitress really wanted to know more about it.  How can you beat a 10% discount on food and drinks only steps from the theater?  As a bonus, you'll be supporting one of the Theatreworks sponsors.  It's a win win.  Win.

Photo Credits:  Theatreworks.

Director: Murray Ross
Scenic Design: Roy Ballard
Lighting & Sound Design:  Alex Ruhlin
Costume Design:  Amy Haines

Thomas:  Jon Barker

Vanda:  Carley Cornelius

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