"In love, as in politics, one partner must rule. One of them must be the hammer, the other the anvil," are the words of Chicago native playwright David Ives in his work "Venus in Fur," which opened Tuesday at Chicago's Goodman Theatre for a run until April 13.
Press release materials herald it as: "a smart, sexy, sinister comedy according to Vogue."
Directed by Joanie Schultz, the 95-minute, no intermission play features a two-member cast starring actor Rufus Collins as the stage story's playwright/director named Thomas and actress Amanda Drinkall portraying Vanda, an actress auditioning for him for his new stage work exploring the darkest secrets and desires of the bedroom playground.
Based on the 1869 novella by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, the man whose name inspired the term "masochism" (tempting the boundaries between pain, passion and pleasure), "Venus in Fur" seemed far more humorous and amusing to the audience around me. I laughed some and parts of the story did have me thinking and later, discussing ideas and interpretations. However, it's not a work that left me desiring more.
Here's the play's description in the press materials: "When Vanda (Drinkall) arrives hours late to an audition for a play based on a nineteenth century erotic novel, the director, Thomas (Collins), is less than impressed. But Vanda's surprisingly masterful performance of the script flips Thomas’ expectations and initiates a tango for dominance between them. As the audition unfolds, both actress and director morph into Sacher-Masoch’s alternately tortured and bemused lovers, switching roles on a dime and exploring shifts in power and the blurring of identities."
I'm told the 2011 Broadway production of "Venus in Fur" was counted "among the 'Best of 2011' by The New York Times, USA Today, Entertainment Weekly and The Wall Street Journal, among others." On the heels of its Broadway run, the play was licensed for production in more than 40 regional theaters across the U.S. and Canada, with plans underway for 26 different countries. (Director Roman Polanski shot a film version of the play, in French, in late 2012, casting his wife Emmanuelle Seigner as the star.)
Though not a long performance, I still found myself looking at my watch Tuesday night while at The Goodman. Far from punishment, to their credits, Drinkall and Collins bring their characters to life and seize every opportunity to entertain and explore the story's possibilities. But by the end of it all, my curiosity was only mildly aroused about whatever plot points remained to be tied-up.
Todd Rosenthal's stark set recreation of a rehearsal room (which granted, a space in most theaters that's not such an interesting space in the first place) is, what it is, allowing Jenny Mannis' costumes the opportunity to draw audience interest.
Tickets are $25-$86 at GoodmanTheatre.org/Venus or (312) 443-3800.