Saturday, June 20, 2015

Venus in Fur

Photo by Helen White

Darlinghurst Theatre Co present, VENUS IN FUR, by David Ives, at the Eternity Playhouse, Darlinghurst. (29 May - 5 July).

VENUS IN FUR, by American, David Ives, was written in 2011. It is, according to the Wickipedia source, "this play-within-a-play is an adaptation of the 1870 novel VENUS IN FURS by the Austrian author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch and happens to be the novel that inspired the term Masochism."

In a flash of lightning (Lighting Design, by Sian James-Holland) and crash of thunder (Composition and Sound Design, by Jessica James-Moody), a young actress, Vanda (Anna Houston), stumbles into a rehearsal room (Production Design, by Mel Page) for an audition for a play that is to be directed by Thomas (Gareth Reeves). During the course of the play, some 90 minutes, the two protagonists read the action of the text and begin to take on role-play that revolves around the power struggle in a sexual relationship, between in this instance, the opposite sexes. Ostensibly, it is the struggle in the play text, that is being auditioned, that we are watching, but it seems to become a struggle, that we come to witness, between these two strangers, Vanda and Thomas. Hip thigh leather boots, a swished whip, and the kissing of feet become part of the evenings sexual adventures/offers. S&M sex! Who holds the power? Is it true, then, as I suspected, (know from experience?) that the 'bottom' always has the power in any scene? That the "top' is just the "top' in name only? I had time to wonder this while watching VENUS IN FUR.

This play has been part of the theatrical anticipatory zeitgeist since its first production, in New York, and has, already, been filmed by Roman Polanski, in 2012. A sex-comedy we have been told. Arriving in Sydney belatedly, then, Grace Barnes, as Director, attempts to bring the play to life at the Eternity Playhouse, Unfortunately, for me, I remained fairly uninvolved and progressively distracted from the action of the play and production. I became bewildered as to what was happening on stage and found myself objectively anxious about a want to go home. I found little comedy to engage me as there was no clarity to launch the humour. The night became tedious in its length.

Ms Houston arrived on stage with a bristling sense of mission. However, her intellectual energy swiftly dissipated, and she did not seem to be able to clearly, definitively, take us into the intellectual shifts, or debates of the play, to keep us alert 'geographically' to what was going on. In fact, Ms Houston, on the night I saw the production, just plainly tired during the journey - lacking clarity in the story-telling 'hinges', and just going on and on and on. Her partner, in the work, Mr Reeves has, as Thomas, a quiet energy, that ultimately, as I became befuddled, I read as undercharged, and even later, being less generous, as just dull - pleasant, but dull, increasingly, boring. Here, too, like Ms Houston, Mr Reeves did not seem to have a set of clues for us, the audience, to be able to read what was happening, or what had happened to justify the next scene of the play.

Everything just happened, there was no reason or guidance as to explain why we were going, or needed to go on to the next scene, the next debate! Ms Barnes needs to take responsibility for this lack of clarity of the written 'escarpments'/steps in the dramaturgical argument developments. In a two-handed play if the two actors are vague in the journey demarcations, there is no hope for the audience, I'm afraid. Those of you that have read the play, rehearsed the play (this production team), need to give us something to read in the narrative journey you are presenting when the black print on the white page is made flesh - embodied for the audience on the stage.

Maybe it was an off-night for the actors, with this dense intellectual comedy, and my bad luck for being there that night. Take a chance if you are interested. Horses for courses.

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