By Felíz Torralba
“This production strikes each moment like a lightning bolt – it’s precise and never misses a beat.”
From the photo on the front of the program I observed when taking my seat in the cozy ART space, I expected this play to be a misogynistic, objectifying play about a woman trying to persuade her director to get a part. Although at times, this play shocked me to my core, it is that and more. It not only plays with the theme of objectification, but it bends it until it breaks. This play pushes the boundaries and is not for the faint of heart or weak of mind. Thomas (David Greenwood), a troubled playwright and director, is desperate to find an actress to play Vanda (Samantha Cormier), the female lead in his adaptation of the classic, sadomasochistic tale Venus in Fur. Into his empty audition space walks a volatile, vulgar and equally desperate actress—oddly enough, named Vanda. She exhibits a strong & strange command of the material, intoxicating Thomas with her seductive talents and secretive manner. As the two work through the script, lines become to blur between play and reality, entering into an increasingly serious game of submission and domination that only one of them can win. A mysterious, funny, erotic drama that represents yet another ‘nail-biting’ piece for the multifaceted author David Ives.
Not every director could master the intensity of this intimate play but director Mark Klugheit rose to the challenge with a boldness that bleeds through every facet from the moment you enter the space. This production strikes each moment like a lightning bolt – it’s precise and never misses a beat. Every element perfectly intertwined from casting and costumes, to the small cracks in the windows on set. Every element is thoughtful and intentional. This is necessary for the complexity of the play. Intention is the word that keeps popping up in my head – especially in regards to the acting. This pair of artists compliment each other SO well. Greenwood sets the tone with a steady pitter patter of the classic, picky, east coast director looking for the “perfect actress” to fit his vision. Greenwood plays with a steadiness and flow that remains uninterrupted until the reckoning force that is Samantha Cormier enters as Vanda. Cormier lights up the stage with an electric, striking nature that gives the audience no choice but to keep up with her. Together, they dance on the line between reality and storytelling that has us all questioning how far these characters will go to get what they want. Clearly, these two are both incredibly experienced artists who understand the rhythm and temperature of the entire piece. They never miss a beat. This play has countless twists and turns. As soon as you start to feel an understanding of what this story is, it completely shocks you again and again. It is intense but still digestible. The play is broken up with painfully hilarious moments. I had no trouble staying present in the story and I attribute that to the combination of complete and utter commitment and intention of the creative team and cast. This story is the epitome of metatheatre because it draws attention to its theatrical & dramatic nature and the circumstances of the performance within a performance. There were a few fleeting moments where my attention was lost but they were minimal, because of the shock factors and the character’s back and forth dialog it was very easy to pick back up!
The lighting by Brandon Howell is one mentionable aspect that invites us into the minds of the characters, telling us when they were ‘in scene’ and ‘in reality,’ and ultimately takes us on their journey of the character’s boundaries disappearing. The costume and props were striking! Vanda’s (Samantha Cormier) costume design by Cynthia Jeffery illustrates her character and storyline. The set by Clark Andreas Ray and The sound design were thoughtful and set the scene perfectly. The sound design helped bring an element of shock, magic, and timelessness to the play. Although the tech was minimal, the piece would have not been what it was without it.
This play made me feel uncomfortable and tested my mind in all the best ways. It’s been 48 hours and I’m still thinking about it! I’d recommend this play to anyone who loves adaptations, mythology, and thought provoking theatre!
Masks and proof of vaccination or a negative covid test are with required Arizona Rose Theatre. ART is located in the Tucson Mall (4500 N Oracle Rd). ‘Venus in Fur’ runs January 21-30. Tickets start at $22 and are available for purchase at https://arttickets.yapsody.com/event/index/699231/next-stage-theatre-southwest. Call the box office for more information at (520)888-0509.