Dynamics of power are always infinitely interesting. Add to the mix, sexuality, erotica, and pure physical attraction, and you have a volatile mix, perfect for a theatrical production. San Jose Stage had a full house on the opening night of David Ives’ “Venus in Fur”. Tony nominated Best Play (2012), has received multiple awards and has also been made into a Roman Polanski film, which premiered at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.
Vanda, an aspiring actress arrives late for her audition for a play based on the nineteenth century erotic novel, when Thomas Novacheck, a playwright-director is about to leave. Thomas is condescending, he talks over Vanda, interrupts her, and does not believe she has the capability for the role. To his credit, Vanda seems totally unprepared, unprofessional, is spewing curses, is bursting with energy, even erotic energy, and seems an unlikely candidate for the role. The power dynamics are in favor of Thomas and notwithstanding her many challenges of coming for an audition on a rainy, stormy day, he is about to throw her out, but gets interrupted by a phone call from his fiancee.
Vanda seizes the opportunity and steps into a costume to begin her reading. As they do the reading, Thomas discovers, to his great dismay, that not only has Vanda come prepared with props and costumes for both, but almost seems to have mastered the play, literally and in spirit. A prepared employee can have the boss wrapped around her finger and the power dynamics shift again. The source material for the play comes from 1870 novel, Venus in Furs by Austrian author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, which also happens to be the origin of the term “masochism”.
As the reading progress, the power dynamics shift again and then again, as Vanda and Thomas step in and out of their roles as Dunayev and Kushemski and step back into character, almost seamlessly but also quite discerningly, if that is possible. Dunayev says, “Why should I forgo any possible pleasure, abstain from any sensual experience? I’’m young, I’m rich, and I’m beautiful and I shall make the most of that. I shall deny myself nothing.” Ahhh the reach of power that comes with it all. But then again who wields the power, one who writes the script or one one who plays along?
As the reading progresses, they share their histories, their kinks, pulled by magnetic attraction towards each other, they fight it when out of character, but fully exploit it, in character. They concede that while people may render themselves explicable, people do not find themselves easily extricable And these stories where people are unable to extricate themselves, make for great theatrical productions in capable hands like Director Kimberly Mohne Hill and actors Johnny Moreno (as Thomas and Kushemski), and Allison F. Rich (as Vanda and Dunayev). Venus in Fur is running at The Stage in San Jose, till March 1. For tickets, please go to www.thestage.org .