San Diego Theater Review: VENUS IN FUR (San Diego REPertory at the Lyceum)

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by Tony Frankel on November 27, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional

WHIPPED INTO A FRENZY

If I had any doubts prior to attending San Diego REP’s production of Venus in Fur (an on-again, off-again playwright; two characters; two directors), they were vanquished within minutes of curtain. This funny and fascinating look into the world of dominant/submissive relationships proved itself to be one of a handful of “must-see” shows this year.

Jeffrey Meek and Caroline Kinsoling in San Diego REP's production of "Venus in Fur."In recent years, playwright David Ives has taken to updating classic scripts with clever but silly results, including Corneille’s The Liar (2010) and an adaptation of Molière’s The Misanthrope, The School for Lies (2011). Yet even with his successful modernizing of a mint of musicals for New York’s Encores! (Wonderful Town moved to Broadway), his original plays have yet to better his amazing collection of one-act playlets, All in the Timing (1993). Now comes the wholly original Venus in Fur, which uses a classic book as its jumping-off point; Ives’s verbal agility, theatrical innovation, and idiosyncratic wit is in full display in this coal-black comedy, a continuously frisky pleasure.

Jeffrey Meek and Caroline Kinsoling in San Diego REP's production of "Venus in Fur."Thomas, an exasperated playwright-director, is griping on the phone to his fiancée about the wearisome actresses he has auditioned for his adaptation of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s classic erotic novel, Venus in Furs. Careening into the audition room—late and with no appointment—is Vanda, who is utterly wrong for the role of the domineering heroine: She’s long-winded, uncouth and ostensibly incompetent. Within a few minutes, her coat is off, revealing a dominatrix’s outfit and a dog collar. Intimidated by her dynamic personality, Thomas gives her a shot at the part; astonishingly, she transforms into a perfect incarnation of the novella’s goddess, with whom she shares the same name. Also strange is that she arrives with a copy of the script. Neither Thomas, nor the audience, knows the half of it.

As they compete for control during this “audition,” what could have been a comedic skit becomes a seductive and creepy inspection of gender identity, sexual role-play and the allure of power. This cat-and-mouse two-hander, rife with kinky devilry and sexual yearning, is like a supernatural, Strindberg-esque Jeffrey Meek and Caroline Kinsoling in San Diego REP's production of "Venus in Fur."psychological drama in which the lines between artifice and reality blur. The play isn’t particularly deep and sags a bit in the middle, but so do many people I have known who nonetheless offered up a riotous and sexy good time.

When Caroline Kinsolving bulldozes her way into the audition room as the foul-mouthed, New-Yorky Vanda, never do we suspect that this dynamite performer is capable of portraying anything more than the flighty actress we see. But due to Kinsolving’s chameleonic efforts, it is actually startling to see her suddenly inhabit the Austrian aristocrat, one who is an imperious seductress and man-degrader (Sacher-Masoch’s name gave birth to the word “masochism”). Not only can this surprising and truly comedic actress do a mean pole dance (yeah, she goes there), but her accents and stature change as quickly as slipping a leather skirt on and off (yeah, she goes there too).

As this NC-17 excursion progresses, Vanda recommends enhancements to Thomas’s script, probes into his incentive and consciousness, and challenges his chauvinism. Whether flustered or forceful, Jeffrey Meek takes his less showy role and believably displays Thomas’s theatrical egotism; he also goes all out and heightens the erotic Caroline Kinsoling in San Diego REP's production of "Venus in Fur."tension by fully inhabiting the fur-loving, submissive character from his play.

Co-directors Kim Rubenstein and Sam Woodhouse have clearly fed off each other as well; they tautly turn the in-the-round, five-row space into claustrophobic circumstances, utilizing the aisles as playing areas. Technically, the show belongs to lighting designer Lonnie Rafael Alcaraz, who highlights character transitions with tight spots, and offers the requisite flickering and dimming on Robin Sanford Roberts’ detailed set. Costumer Jennifer Brawn Gittings ensures that the kinky outfits and upper-class garb can easily be donned and removed.

This is an exciting, lusty and entertaining experience which elicits chortles as well as gasps. Some patrons may even find themselves challenged by the material. I don’t know how it will affect them in the long run, but as for me, I’ll never look at my fur-lined Teddy Bear in the same way again.

Jeffrey Meek and Caroline Kinsoling in San Diego REP's production of "Venus in Fur."

photos by Daren Scott

Venus in Fur
San Diego REP
Lyceum Space, 79 Horton Plaza
scheduled to end on December 8, 2013
for tickets, call (619) 544-1000 or visit http://www.sdrep.org/

{ 1 comment }

Linda Comer December 2, 2013 at 9:28 am

Saw Venus in Fur at yesterday’s matinee with my husband, and we were completely blown away. There was never a moment where we weren’t acutely attentive to see where this complex and complicated plot and character study would take us. I’m still reflecting back on the many captivating and thought provoking scenes.

Bravo to Caroline and Jeffrey. Perfectly cast!

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