VENUS IN FUR -no matter who’s on top they both win

Power is intoxicating, but in the sexy, and funny, drama VENUS IN FUR, now playing at the OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista through June 15th, it can leave you wondering- in the game of power politics who is it that actually has the upper hand?

In this charismatic theatrical duet we find theatre director Thomas (Tom Steward) ending a long and frustrating day auditioning actresses, all of whom he tells his fiancé over the phone, are “hopeless.”” He has adapted a play of the nineteenth century book by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch titled “Venus in Fur” and casting isn’t going well. Yes, the authors name sounds familiar because it is the one associated with sexual masochism.  But don’t worry, this play isn’t really about sex, it’s about power, which as we learn is its own kind of kink.

As a storm crashes outside, in stumbles Vanda (Sandra Ruiz), an actress who is soaking wet, hours late for her audition, and talking a mile a minute.  At one glance, Thomas knows she is not right for the part and he gently tries to dissuade her, or at least reschedule for when he’s in a better mood.   Vanda keeps talking and eventually wears him down and he agrees to read with her since everyone else has left and it might be the quickest way to get her to leave.

Sandra Ruiz Photo: Darren Scott

Even though she inexplicably shares a name with the female character in his play, Vanda is deliberately blunt about how she sees the play.  “Basically it’s S-and-M porn,” Vanda proclaims, irritating Thomas, who condescendingly corrects her.  “‘Venus in Fur’ is a great love story,” he practically growls in frustration. “It’s a serious novel. It’s a central text of world literature.

Well, that may not be true, but neither is the idea that Vanda doesn’t know what she’s doing. Not only is she prepared, she has a bag full of costumes appropriate for the shows time period, and it appears she may have more knowledge of the book than she initially let on.  For Thomas, as they read from the play it quickly turns from a begrudging audition to a more enthusiastic exploration of the play and the discussion points it raises.

Tom Steward Photo: Darren Scott

Vanda proves herself more than a capable actress, seemingly effortlessly sliding into the European accents of the play set in 1870 and further captivating Thomas as he sees his character come to life before him.  So it’s almost disconcerting for both him and the audience when Vanda switches back to present day to ask about a line reading or to question a characters motivation. As the lines between reality and the play within a play continue to blur the show becomes a duel for power, seduction, and control.

It’s smart and deliberate pacing by Director James P. Darvas allows the audience and Thomas the chance to come back and re-calibrate their reality between scenes of the play within the play. 

Ruiz’s Vanda is mysterious,quick, and cunning; she knows more than she initially lets on, but how?  Why is she here? What does she really want?  How does she know so much about Thomas and this play?

 Steward’s Thomas is at first in control, but as he starts to succumb to Vanda’s sirens lure of a performance it makes one wonder if this play of his is really just a play or a subconscious self-revelation. 

And why does the thunder of that storm seem to crash at the perfect moment every time?

Lighting Design by Santiago Venegas and Sound Design by Kelsie Morris add just the right ambience for this duel.

VENUS IN FUR is an intelligent and entertaining debate on the intoxication of power, sex, and the games people play.  Does the hand that holds the whip hold the power, or does the person allowing this demonstration of power really run the show?

VENUS IN FUR is paying through June 15th at the OnStage Playhouse I Chula Vista.  For ticket and performance times go to www.www.onstageplayhouse.org or call 619-4222-7787

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