James Ryan Gobuty
Canadian Stage’s production of Venus in Fur by David Ives is a fun and challenging play that transforms its 19th century text into a vibrant critique of gender relations, theatre and power.
The play focuses on the audition process between Thomas (Rick Miller) and Vanda (Carly Street) for a modern adaptation of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s infamous text of the same name. As the play progresses, the two characters reveal that many of the same tensions of sex, romance and control, which unfold in the original text, are still alive in the 21st century.
Director Jennifer Tarver is presented with a unique challenge. Not only is she tasked with representing Sacher-Masoch’s and Ives’ racy motifs of domination and S&M, but also the play challenges the role of the director itself.Tarver takes the challenge in stride and creates a tense yet hilarious world where the audience can never be sure where the power lies until the very last moment.
Rick Miller and Carly Street’s performances solidify the show’s success. Street dazzles as she oscillates between the roles of stumbling actress and Hellenic Goddess, bringing to stage not only the powerful feminine energy of the old world, but also showing how that same power thrives today. Miller bravely thrusts himself into Thomas’ journey, from total control to total submission and ultimately, from man into woman. The range and depth of these two actors is highly commendable.
The combined efforts of Debra Hanson (Set/Costume Designer), Michael Walton (Lighting Designer) and Lyon Smith (Sound Designer) create a world that comes alive and consumes the characters on stage. Though often subtle, the weather effects produced by the design team breathe tension into the action on stage, creating an underlying feeling of a force of nature waiting to invade Thomas’ life.
Canadian Stage’s production of David Ives’ Venus in Fur is best summed up with a line from the play: “We’re all easily explicable. What we’re not is easily extricable”. While this play can be described in many ways: funny, entertaining, provocative, it is in all ways more than the sum of its parts. This is a show not to be missed, and not to be underestimated.
Venus in Fur is playing at the Bluma Appel Theatre from September 29 – October 27. Tickets can be purchased online at canadianstage.com