Going into Theatre UNB’s production of Venus in Fur by David Ives, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had heard of the show after it hit Broadway in 2011, but knew nothing about it.
Let’s just say it was quite the ride.
We enter the action with Thomas Novachek (Djordie Lepir), a discouraged director who can’t seem to find the right actress for the lead in his new play adaptation of the 1870 novel Venus in Furs.
Thomas is your stereotypical turtleneck-wearing, ponytailed, ambivalent, pedantic, frustrated artist. While his character is a little boring at the start, especially compared to the vivacious Vanda, he grows on you, becoming more vibrant as he gets more into the role playing.
Then enter Vanda Jordon (Hillary Ready). She’s late for the audition, and Thomas is disinterested by her seemingly stereotypical dumb white girl demeanour. Vanda’s overbearing personality soon takes control of the situation, as she convinces Thomas to let her audition.
As Vanda and Thomas immerse themselves deeper into the roles of Wanda von Dunayev and Severin von Kushemski the lines between the audition and the “real life” of the play begin to blur, and sexual tension rises. Vanda becomes the director and dominatrix, snapping her fingers and ordering Thomas and Severin around, in and out of character.
Ready did wonderfully as Vanda/Wanda. The enigmatic shifts between the two characters simultaneously reveals and obscures the cynical, clever, demanding and powerful personality of both.
The simply-furnished set allows for the action and the imagination of the audition to shine. The seeming and being of dominance and submission in the play take wonderfully unexpected twists, giving the play its dark humour.
The most powerful moment however, is when Vanda says to Thomas, “You thought you could use me to insult me!”
Her attack on him for using the play to paint powerful women as the villains and men who beg to be dominated as the victims raises important questions about gender power dynamics not just in sexual relationships, but in our society as a whole. In a world where a woman who is loud, demanding, and takes up space is cast as a “nasty woman,” Venus in Fur confronts us with the double standards of female power.
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