Review: Austin Playhouse’s ‘Venus in Fur’
Following the family-friendly melee of holiday shows in December, who wouldn’t be intrigued by a super-sexy stage adaptation of the 19th century novel that introduced sadomasochism to the world?
A surprisingly risqué choice for Austin Playhouse (though not part of their subscription season), David Ives’ variation, “Venus in Fur,” playing now through Jan. 25 is a comedic and sultry play within a play that toys with power relations between actor and director, male and female, lover and beloved.
Now, what the play is actually trying to say about those power relations never really becomes clear, but the show is provocative and entertaining provided you don’t overthink it.
Playwright Thomas Novachek (Gray G. Haddock) has written a stage adaptation of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s novel, “Venus in Furs,” and is desperately trying to find an appropriate actress to play the leading lady. The hapless and ditsy Vanda Jordan (Molly Karrasch) arrives for her audition flustered and several hours late, and nevertheless manages to cajole Thomas into letting her read for the part.
Given how obnoxious the young actress appears to be, Thomas and the audience are equally surprised by how smoothly she slips into the role of a European noblewoman (turned dominatrix). The stakes escalate as the two read through the script and the lines between performance and “reality” become increasingly blurred.
Fittingly, Molly Karrasch dominates the play, and her smooth shifts between radically differing characters are appropriately disconcerting. Haddock, however, has a hard time keeping up both in character and out. So although the show is filled with moments of extreme sexual tension, at times it’s not quite tense enough. The power dynamic doesn’t really shift over the course of the play, since Vanda essentially takes control from the minute she walks on stage.
As a result, the two-person, 90 minute play is entertaining but ambiguous. And although the meta-commentary in the script acknowledges the playwright’s intention for ambiguity, this comes across as a bit of a cop out.
Featuring whips and collars, lingerie and stilettos, the show is decidedly adult in content and not suitable for anyone uncomfortable watching an actress perform in her underwear for the better part of a play.
But it could certainly make for an interesting date night and a spicy start to the new year.
“Venus in Fur” continues through Jan. 25. www.austinplayhouse.com