TFM Review: Venus in Fur by Nikki Francisco
Sado-Masochism isn’t an easy sell—or maybe it is. We do live in a post Fifty Shades of Grey world, after all. Still, you don’t see plays like “Venus in Fur” staged very often in these parts. But, The Necessary Theatre likes staging shows that rile you up. They did so with The Normal Heart earlier this year, and they’ve done it again with this re-run of David Ives’s play.
Rile you up in a different sense, of course.
Based on the 19th century novel, Venus in Furs, the story is a play within a play. It’s a stormy night in New York, and Thomas (David Bianco), a director, is at wit’s end. He spent the day auditioning actresses to play the sultry Wanda von Dunayev and none of them have been competent. Enter a woman, cursing and sodden from the downpour outside. Brazen the second she came in, she disorients Thomas even further. She’s an actress, too. Late for her audition. Thomas tries to get rid of her, but there is something about her that tips the balance of power on her side.
Wanda (Jennifer Blair Bianco) is something else. While we get a good read of who Thomas is as the play progresses, Wanda remain the story’s main mystery to the very end. Who is this woman, who reduced literature to porn yet reveals that she knows the play and the book by heart? We don’t really find out, but that’s not the point. It’s all about the verbal and psychological dance these characters play against each other.
And dance they do. Wanda plays her namesake and Thomas plays Severin who was awakened to the pain-pleasure of submission and punishment after being spanked as a child. Wanda von Dunayev comes in form the rain (much like present-day Wanda) and somehow agrees to become Severin’s dominant for six months. It’s a story that draws you in, and no one is sucked in deeper than Thomas and Wanda themselves. As the show progresses, the lines of real and fiction start to blur, and the two protagonists find it harder and harder to tear themselves away from the characters that have captivated them.
It’s a thrilling piece that required nothing short of excellence from its two performers. Working on a bare stage and switching between layered characters at the turn of a phrase—the Biancos were superb! Jennifer Blair Bianco flipped from Wanda to Wanda with flair and finesse. She was magnetic, and performed with a fearlessness that enraptures the audience.
Venus in Fur is an enthralling and witty thriller. Sexy, too, without needing to be explicit. It’s a unique piece of theater that encourages you to ask questions about passions you’ve never even thought of exploring. It’s not always the spectacle that leaves a mark with the audiences, and The Necessary Theater’s staging of this show has proved that. -NF
Have you seen this show? What did you think?