Venus in Fur, the unbelievably provocative, sexy production being mounted at Players by the Sea recently held a preview for theatre writers and bloggers, to sit in on a rehearsal and get a feel for the electrically charged production. MetroJacksonville attended as well and what we found was a role that Amanda Morales has reinvented and super powered with literally all the aspects of femininity except childbirth. Join us for more after the jump.
Venus in Fur is a two-person play by David Ives set in modern New York City. The play had its premiere off-Broadway at the Classic Stage Company in 2010 and on Broadway in 2011.
Venus in Fur opened off-Broadway at the Classic Stage Company on January 13, 2010. The play was originally set to close on February 21, 2010, and was extended to March 7, 2010. The cast featured Nina Arianda and Wes Bentley with direction by Walter Bobbie. The play relaunched the career of Wes Bentley.
The play opened on Broadway, produced by the Manhattan Theatre Club, at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre beginning in previews on October 13, 2011, and officially on November 8, 2011. Nina Arianda reprised her role as Vanda and Hugh Dancy replaced Wes Bentley, with Walter Bobbie directing. The production ended its limited engagement at the Friedman on December 18 and resumed performances at the Lyceum Theatre on February 7, 2012, in a limited engagement through June 17, 2012. The Broadway production received two Tony Award nominations, including for Best Play and Best Actress in a Play.
In 2013, the play saw its Australian premiere in a production by the Queensland Theatre Company in Brisbane with Libby Munro as Vanda and Todd MacDonald as Thomas. Dana Brooke as Vanda was declared one of the "Performances of the Year" by The Sacramento Bee in B Street Theatre's production in 2013.
Thomas Novachek is the writer-director of a new play opening in New York City, an adaptation of the 1870 novel Venus in Furs by Austrian author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, which inspired the term Masochism. He is on the telephone lamenting the inadequacies of all the actresses who showed up that day to audition for the lead character, Wanda von Dunayev. Suddenly, at the last minute, a new actress, Vanda Jordan, bursts in, the exemplar of every fault he has decried: needy, crude, compliant, desperate. She convinces him to read through his play, she as Wanda and he as Severin von Kushemski. During this reading, Vanda shows astonishing insights into the novel and her character and the balance of power shifts as the actress establishes total dominance over the director, exactly as in the novel.
So a few things to note: This play only debuted about three and a half years ago in New York, and is being performed here in Jville. So, like Barbara Colaciello's recent production of 'Passing Strange', it actually qualifies as contemporary theatre. A huge plus.
This is somewhat different from director Daniel Austin's last performance in the first Jville production of "Angels in America" more than two decades after the play debuted, and 10 years after an HBO miniseries was produced.
Also, this marks the final Jville production with the stars of the show, Amanda Morales (Vonda) and Carl Vorwerk (Thomas). Both actors are moving to New York after the production in order to pursue their profession after several years of performing and giving their talents away for free in Jville.
It is a two person show, and the blocking is necessarily energetic. Often times if there isn't very dynamic stage action, a show with this small of a cast can have all the energy and excitement of a chess game in which one of the participants has died.
Daniel Austin was very aware of this and so he keeps a classically balanced stage pretty much at all times, and keeps the characters moving so much that it almost seems that there are teams of people in the bare bones, minimalist set. (there is literally a desk, a bench, and a divan. Oh, and a pole)
But the real action happens pretty much the moment that Amanda sizzles onto the stage, a blustering, hopeful, overdressed and frustrated bit of work that could have been inspired directly from the golden age of hollywood.
Every generation or so, this city produces an actress of such talent that her performances themselves inspire anyone who witnesses them (Valery Anthony's work from the 1980s comes immediately to mind) and Amanda Morales is without hesitation the best, most subtle actress of the past twenty years. Beautiful, understated, unpredictable and incredibly brainy, she can accomplish more in the movements that she doesn't make than most people can do with a thousand overwrought gesticulations.
Her performances are thoughtful, well executed and sometimes border on the verge of sheer genius as she transforms her characters into living, breathing, and totally believable avatars for the stage.
Her performance in Venus in Fur is on par with her recent, (totally under reported) work reinventing the character of Blanche DuBois for ABETs production of Streetcar Named Desire.
The visceral sexuality, the deliberately withheld insight and the classical teasing that she does, both sexually and intellectually with Carl Vorwerk's pretty and suitably effete portrayal of Thomas is breathtaking.
There are parts so excruciatingly charged with conflicting impulses that you can cut the tension in the audience with a knife.
When the preview panel spoke with the director and cast after the show, people were very amazed at the nuanced level of sympathy that the actors displayed in understanding the pivoting power of a submissive/dominant relationship. Amanda revealed that in college back in Indiana, she had been close friends with a professional dominatrix and had spent many hours talking about and understanding the S&M appeal.
I think that this performance might actually mark the first nuanced portrayal of Sadism/Masochism since the fabled theatre collapsing performance of The Maids, by Jacksonville Actor's Theatre. (scattered performances of 'Quills' aside)
It is definitely the most visceral and affecting.
That is not to say that the play is a sex romp, although Morales gets even less dressed than the pictures here. Its not. Its an engaging thriller.
And its not really about S&M, its about something a bit deeper, although I really think you should see the play itself to decide what that is.
Its a shame that this will be the last local performance of this amazingly talented actress.
Perhaps we should start paying our best and brightest.
Go see this show!
text and images stephen dare
the divan. where almost everything happens.
Carl Vorwerk as Thomas, the elegantly pretty young playwright.
Director Daniel Austin on his maiden Directorial Voyage at the Beaches stage theatre.
Amanda Morales, as she first appears in character as Vonda, the well….the goddess.
Go see this show!
text and images stephen dare