Time Out Theater Review: "Venus In Fur"
A new take on the classic erotic novel "Venus In Fur" is currently playing off-Broadway at Classic Stage Company. David Cote, contributing critic from Time Out New York, filed the following review.
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Some actors can do zany comedy and others can do sexy and serious, but few excel in both at the same time. Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce Nina Arianda. This young performer, a recent New York University grad, has been turning heads for her smashing debut in David Ives' very clever and meta two-hander, "Venus In Fur."
Arianda, playing a superficially daffy but secretly mysterious aspiring actress, has that rare ability to crank up romantic heat, and then douse it in a cold comic bath. Her first entrance is a bravura display of comic business, all flying limbs, jumbled props and hysterical banter. Ives' set-up is sketch comedy simple and yet, from a structural standpoint, quite complex. Arianda's character, Wanda, has arrived at the end of an audition for a stage adaptation of the 1870 erotic classic, "Venus in Furs." The book, by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, is infamous for frankly depicting an intense sadomasochistic affair in 19th-century Austria. The play-within-the-play was written and will be directed by the priggish, repressed Thomas, nicely underplayed by Wes Bentley.
What ensues over the next 90 minutes is a hilarious battle of the sexes and a double seduction. Wanda wows Thomas by her unexpected acting prowess and her uncanny understanding of the book and the play, even his confused sexuality. Thomas finds himself alternately frustrated and mesmerized as she takes over the audition. You get the sense that Wanda is more than she seems, perhaps the modern embodiment of her fictional character. Post-modern musing aside, you have to hand it to Ives, director Walter Bobbie and the two actors for the brilliant balancing act of erotic tension, comic release and literary criticism. And, of course, it’s darkly sexy. Just as in the play-within-the-play, the couple drifts into a master-slave agreement, as she humiliates him for his masochistic delight.
"Venus in Fur" may lose some momentum and focus toward the end but for the most part it is deliciously twisty and witty fun. And again, there's that remarkable newcomer Nina Arianda. More audiences should have the pleasure of being dominated by a major talent like hers.