Theater has always been a platform for social reform and personal expression. Playwrights tell biographical stories and write about the social themes or injustices that either affect or influence their daily lives. But when does that expression become too much? In David Ives interesting 2010 Tony Award-winning play “Venus in Fur,” a playwright meets his match in a woman who has a lot to say about his play and about his ideas of society, theatre and people. WVU’s Lab Theatre is presenting this play, its third production of the semester, at the end of this week.
“Venus in Fur” is a two-person play that takes place at the tail end of a casting call for an adaptation of the 1870 Austrian novel of the same name written by the main character, Thomas Novacheck. The play is presented in an audition format, in which the playwright and the mysterious girl Vanda, who shows up as he is preparing to go home, read from the play and explore what it really means.
The play within the play examines a violent, sexual relationship between a masochist and the beautiful woman from upstairs who treats him like her slave. The woman in the novel has the same name as the girl auditioning, which is the first layer of mystery surrounding Vanda, and her opinion on the character and the script itself differs greatly from Novacheck’s. She finds some of the dialogue to be very sexist, while Thomas argues that the play is about two people with burning passion for each other. “Venus in Fur” weaves in and out of an actor and a playwright talking about the play and actually reading scenes from it. They read more and more of the play, as it slowly becomes the primary way they communicate their ideas and how they define their relationship.
The two actors who have collaborated to create this piece did so without a full-time director. First year MFA acting student Joe Gay and senior BFA acting student Ashley Koon play the two roles in Ives’s play, and their collaboration during the rehearsal process is what brought the play together. They broke down the text, asked each other questions and played with different interpretations of the scenes in order to bring together this play with all of the complicated layers that Ives wrote into his script.
“We did a lot of table work, pulling the beats apart and naming them to figure out what they mean,” Gay said. “We spent a lot of time finding what’s real in what we are saying and where the lines are blurred, and where the characters in the book reflect what our characters are saying.”
Theatre history professor Dr. Jay Malarcher advised the project along the way. He came to several rehearsals and helped give feedback and direction to the two performers as they went on their journey. Malarcher really took to the text because of how much there was to be analyzed and how many layers could be found and explored.
“Everything we went to the text for, answers it gave us. The deeper you dig, the more you find in a play like this it’s like Shakespeare,” Malarcher said.
There are so many themes and ideas crammed into this script; it’s almost difficult to keep track of them all. Power, sex, S&M, gender bias and the current state of playwriting and the theatrical environment are all very prevalent from Thomas’ opening phone conversation to the final plot twist.
“Venus in Fur” has a preview showing at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow, and will officially debut Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. Guests can also catch two Friday showings at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. in the Vivian Davis Michael Theatre. Admission is free but seating is limited.