Venus in Fur
By Charlene Baldridge | SDUN Theater Critic
Venus and Aphrodite are one and the same. The first was a Roman goddess and the second, the Greek version of the same immortal. One who had no childhood, the mythological Venus rose full-blown from the sea, a product of the gisum left over when Cronus castrated Uranus and threw his genitals into the sea.
Those Romans and Greeks were a rough lot. So are Thomas and Vanda, the two characters in David Ives’ popular comedy, “Venus in Fur,” playing through December 8 in an extraordinary production co-directed by Kim Rubinstein and Sam Woodhouse in the suitably reconfigured Lyceum Space at San Diego Repertory Theatre.
Vanda, a struggling New York actor, arrives hours late for an audition. She is laden with a huge bag that contains costumes and props for her audition. Thomas, who wrote and is directing his own play, is about to go home to his fiancée. Brash and unprepared, New Yorkese-spewing Vanda seems totally inappropriate for the leading role in Thomas’s classical play based on Leopold Sacher-Masoch’s incendiary 1870 novel, “Venus in Furs.”
The male reader hired for the auditions has gone home, and against his good judgment and will, Thomas is persuaded to read a scene with Vanda. When she dresses in the grand lady’s lace, she is transformed. Everything changes, and Thomas is transfixed. Just so readers know what they’re in for, take note that Masoch’s name evoked the term masochism. The evolution of Aphrodite’s name is aphrodisiac.
In a fascinating 100-minute whirlwind, each actor slips from his or her character in Thomas’s play to his or her persona in Ives’ play. The sexual tension is delicious, both in the play and in the play. Jeffrey Meek and Caroline Kinsolving turn in tours de force characterizations, providing some of the year’s top acting. With admirable chemistry, they are by turns reserved, enticing, erotic, athletic and—utterly without respite—as fascinating and watchable as Ives’ concept.
Although both Meek and Kinsolving enjoy careers in film and television, each seems devoted to stage work as well.
Meek’s memorable Rep roles include Jim Morrison in “Celebration of the Lizard,” Pale in “Burn This,” and Macheath in “The Threepenny Opera.” He has great range, sensitivity and sex appeal. His perfect foil, the utterly fearless and gorgeous Kinsolving makes her Rep debut as Vanda. She was seen locally as Jo in the North Coast Rep production of “Little Women.”
Realizing that this piece requires both masculine and feminine input in to fully explore its far-ranging meanings, Woodhouse wisely called in UCSD professor Kim Rubinstein to be his co-director. Surely a stroke of genius, and we loved the pole dance. Who’s on top? Patrons must see the play to find out. Even then, Ives masterful construct leaves some doubt as to exactly what one has just witnessed and what the implications might be in a Miley Cyrus, cyber-sexting world.
Depending upon life experience, relationships and upbringing it’s likely that each of us sees a different play, in this case sublimely cast and directed, and enhanced by Robin Sanford Roberts’ imaginative scenic design, Jennifer Brawn Gittiings’ gorgeously appropriate costumes, Lonnie Rafael Alcaraz’s witty lighting, and George Yé’s sound. Typical of the detail lavished on the production, Yé’s play-out music is a section from Vivaldi’ “Gloria.”
A hit off- and on Broadway in 2011—2012, “Venus in Fur” is the nation’s most-produced play this year, receiving an unprecedented 22 productions. The clever Ives, thoroughly grounded in the classics and with tongue firmly planted in cheek, is best known as author of “All in the Timing” and “Time Flies.”
Where: The Lyceum Space, San Diego Repertory Theatre, 79 Horton Plaza, Downtown
When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays Wednesdays and Sundays, 8 pm Thursdays and Saturdays and 2 pm Saturdays and Sundays through December 8
Info: sdrep.org or 619-544-1000
Tickets: $31 – $47