By PAM HARBAUGH
Something fantastical this way comes in Mad Cow Theatre Company’s offertory for the spooky season. It’s their seductive production of David Ives’ “Venus in Fur.”
Those of a certain generation baptized in theatrical cruel role playing articulated so luridly in the mid-20th century by Jean Genet will find the familiar in “Venus in Fur.” And those new to the notion of psychological mind games as theater will find something wildly fresh in Mad Cow Theatre’s hypnotic production.
It starts with a bang…well, a crash of lightning. Lights come up on a casting office for a playwright named Thomas (a splendid Timothy Williams). He has had a hard time finding the right actress for the role of Vanda in his original work. His play is based on the real life novel, “Venus in Furs,” by the 19th century writer Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. Psycho-sexual in nature, the novel (and Ives’ play) concerns sexual dominance and submission. In fact, the word “masochism” comes from the author’s name.
Thomas is about to leave the office when an actress (a rapturous Piper Rae Patterson) enters. She, too, has had a heck of a day, causing her to be late to the audition. She tries to convince Thomas to let her read even though she is late. She says she would be perfect for the part and, coincidentally, her name is also Vanda.
Eerily, she already has a complete script, which has never been published. And, she already has her lines memorized. More lightning. More thunder. However, she doesn’t want to just read the “sides.” She wants to immerse herself into the role and needs Thomas to read the part of the male lead, Kushemsnki. Soon, the reading turns into mind games laced liberally with sado masochism. Vanda, whoever or whatever she is, takes Thomas to the breaking point
Ives, who loves folding time and place into itself (“All in the Timing,” “Variations on the Death of Trotsky” and “Philip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread”), does the same with “Venus in Fur.” Much like Genet’s “The Maids,” the characters shift back and forth in roles, rising with power and bending with submission. Throughout, the sexual role playing steps into the realm of sadistic/masochistic role playing.
Director Peg O’Keefe takes bold hold of Ives’ play and unflinchingly builds the story to its kinky crescendo. You’re ready for a cigarette by the time it ends.
This production hits the sensual and intellectual sweet spot. It needs to be on your short list.
Photo by Tom Hurst
SIDE O’ GRITS: “Venus in Fur” runs through Nov. 17 at Mad Cow Theatre Company, 54 W. Church St., Orlando. Talk backs after every Thursday and Sunday performance. There will not be a performance Nov. 10. Tickets are $33.75. Call 407.297.8788 or visit www.madcowtheatre.com.