Venus in Fur could stand to go deeper
By David Ives. Directed by David Mackay. An Arts Club production. At the Granville Island Stage on Wednesday, October 9. Continues until November 2
If S & M isn’t edgy, what’s the point? And if a play about S & M doesn’t challenge its audience, why does it exist?
In David Ives’s 2010 script Venus in Fur, a playwright named Thomas has written a stage adaptation of the late-19th century novella that gave rise to the term sadomasochism. An actor named Vanda shows up—hours late—to audition for a role. Ives’s script turns into a hall of mirrors when we find out that the character Vanda wants to play is also named Vanda. In Thomas’s script, which he and the actor read together, Vanda is a noblewoman and a dominatrix who pushes around a guy name Severin. And as the audition unfolds, Vanda the actor becomes a dominatrix, getting increasingly rough with Thomas.
This fancy format promises complexity, but doesn’t deliver. Playwright Ives establishes the point that sexual bottoms are often in control. I hate to sound jaded, but who doesn’t know that already? Ives also explores gender politics, introducing early on the notion of a vengeful goddess. But the terms of the play are disappointingly simple: vengeance is justified. There’s no doubting Thomas’s chauvinism, for instance, when he calls Vanda “You fucking idiot woman. Yes, idiot woman. Idiot actress.” Conceptually, you could get tricky about this and ask if, in getting pissed with Thomas, Vanda is avoiding responsibility for her own desires, but the script doesn’t provide much fuel for that line of questioning.
It doesn’t provide emotional depth either. Danger sometimes emerges; knives are involved. But the script just ploughs past these potentially dramatic developments, staying abstract, cracking jokes. (Yes, the play is a comedy, but comedies can be much scarier than this.)
Despite its shortcomings, Venus in Fur might still provide a showcase for the performer playing Vanda. Ives’s script draws on all sorts of juicy archetypes: bimbo, artist, deity. I’d love to see a performance in which the interpreter spits out all of those colours in a dizzying display. Unfortunately, that’s not the performance that Lindsey Angell delivers. In the play-within-the-play, her noblewoman feels like an uptight pose. Overall, Angell does a decent job, but she never lets it rip.
Interestingly, Vincent Gale, in the less showy roles of Thomas and Severin, does. In one of the script’s reversals, Thomas becomes Vanda in his own play. Briefly, we see real desire on-stage—and realize what we’ve been missing all along.