Venus in Fur

  • Our critic's rating:
    Date:
    November 1, 2011

    Review by Tulis McCall

    I don’t know what Nina Arianda has for breakfast, but I think she must cut it with gunpowder. This is an actor that is nearly a force of nature.

    I saw this production in its original Off-Broadway incarnation and was transported. Arianda is a chameleon of extraordinary flavor. And in this role she gets to soar.

    At the end of a dull, dull audition day, Thomas (Hugh Dancy) the author of Venus in Fur the play, based on Venus in Furs The Book by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (whose name was the source for “masochism”) is ready to get gone from his lonely rehearsal studio, but just at that moment a new candidate explodes into the room. Armed with the same name as the character in the play, Vanda (Arianda) quickly disarms Thomas with a barrage of tales of her not-so-good-very-bad-day so far. She is also equipped with a full script – and it is this that intrigues Thomas because no one has the script.

    Where did she get it? What is Vanda doing there?

    We are never told, because once this Vanda opens her mouth as the character, all bets are off. Arianda’s transitions are so perfect you could get whiplash, and this character soon has all of us in her grip, not to mention the hold she has on Thomas. As he begins to read the character of Severin Kushemski, the man who would subjugate himself to women just for the thrill of it, time does a little cha-cha. Everyone in the theatre loses track of exactly who is doing what to whom. All we know is – don’t take your eyes off this woman.

    It so happens that Vanda knows the script cold, but what she doesn’t always know is the details, the why and wherefore bits. She zips back and forth between the two Vandas quicker than a blink. She is street smart and opinionated even when she has a question. And while most of this is very, very funny, it soon takes on the air of something a tad sinister. Something, well, masochistic. The power shifts back and forth between these two as if they were riding a seesaw.

    Vanda knows a lot more about Thomas than is normal. This is one of the gaping holes in the story because we never find out what her deal is. Is she passing time? Is there revenge? Is this how she gets her kicks? We don’t know. What Vanda has in mind for Thomas reveals itself as one surprise after another. You never see anything coming, and that is one of the many brilliant elements in David Ives writing as well as Walter Bobbie’s direction.

    With another script and another actor, we would dwell on the missing information. But with Arianda we are too busy watching her fly without a net to worry about the details, at least not until after the curtain has come down.

    Hugh Dancy handles himself well, but he has not yet found that steely center that Thomas uses to steady himself around Vanda. Her pull is like a spider’s song, and Thomas, as he is written resists that tune until the very end. I suspect Dancy has this spark of steel somewhere, and the play will be better for it once he pulls that rabbit out of the hat.

    As it is now, this is nearly a one-woman show. Arianda takes the stage like a lioness that hasn’t eaten in a week. She is thrilling and fearless and a treasure.

    (Tulis McCall)

    "Arianda is giving the first must-see performance of the Broadway season."
    Charles Isherwood for New York Times

    "This astutely drawn and deliciously performed play is ... juicy and surprising."
    Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News

    "Once Vanda’s agenda becomes clearer, the play starts running in circles. Ives bogs down in his own cleverness, and 'Venus in Fur' eventually loses steam."
    Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post

    "Arianda ..[is] the engine that drives this intermissionless thrill ride."
    Erik Haagensen for Back Stage

    "Works hard to keep your interest, but it lacks the dramatic development to fully succeed."
    Robert Feldberg for The Record

    "For the most part it is deliciously twisty and witty fun."
    David Cote for Time Out New York

    "Steamy play driven by Arianda’s bewitching performance."
    Michael Sommers for Newsroom Jersey

    "Even if the cat-and-mouse games of Ives’ comedy with teeth become too attenuated, the players remain transfixing in Walter Bobbie’s mostly vigorous production."
    David Rooney for Hollywood Reporter

    "But even at under two hours, the play still feels overworked, padded with repetitive seduction scenes and overwrought psycho-sexual arguments."
    Marily Stasio for Variety

    External links to full reviews from popular press...

    New York Times - New York Daily News - New York Post - Back Stage - The Record - Time Out New York - Newsroom Jersey - Hollywood Reporter - Variety