“It’s basically S&M, right?”: Alberta Theatre Projects Takes the Stage with Venus In Fur

Directed by Tracey Flye, Alberta Theatre Projects’ production of David Ives’ Venus in Fur at the Martha Cohen Theatre is a vulgar, oddly compelling experience.

The play opens with playwright/director Thomas Novachek (Tim Campbell) in a worn-down studio after a round of failed auditions for his latest project, an adaptation of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Fur. Frustrated at the lack of female talent in the city, Thomas sets out to go home to his fiancee. Abruptly, actress Vanda Jordan (Amanda Lisman) bursts into the room and pleads for an audition. At first, the very crude and immature Vanda turns Thomas off. It is when the actress delivers an impressive cold read for the role of Wanda von Dunayev that the director takes great interest in her. But as they continue to read through the script together, reality and fantasy become increasingly discernible. Lines from the script begin to run parallel and have effect on the sinister relationship that soon develops between Vanda and Thomas. Thomas discovers by the end of the night that there is more to Vanda Jordan than meets the eye.

In his script, Ives establishes greater supernatural forces at play in this world, like the gods and goddesses of classical antiquity. True to his style, Ives reveals and then conceals moments of clarity that the audience looks for in order to see ahead of the playwright. The mysteries of the play, which are supported by sharp dialogue, certainly keep our interest throughout.

The play, however, could wrap up sooner. The moment where all is revealed to Thomas (and the audience) is a bit too drawn out, effectively taking away some ‘punch’ from Thomas’s final line.

Lisman impresses with her ability to transform from the unassuming actress Vanda Jordan to the well-principled Countess Wanda; the duality of her character performances are like night and day. (The clean transition between accents is remarkable). The actress truly hits her stride as the mysteries of the play become clearer. Lisman commands the stage with an unsettling intensity that, no doubt, resonates throughout the entire theatre.

Campbell does well in the play’s first half, but leading into the play’s second half we do not see the actor give as much as Lisman puts in.

Thomas is an everyman whose unfulfilled sexual desires and intimacy issues pose a threat to both his professional and personal life. Vanda’s presence is at once promising, but also terrifying because Thomas finally has in front of him what he has always desired. Over the course of the play, Vanda, essentially, breaks Thomas down. Unfortunately, we do not get a sense of this from Campbell’s performance. Campbell fails to rise to the stakes established in the play.

Even so, Venus in Fur is an interesting piece of work to see. Ives’ characters take us through many twists and turns. And the actors, though their performances may not always sync up, do tackle the script without fear. There is plenty here to leave audiences talking about the play on their way home.

ATP’s production of David Ives’ Venus in Fur starts the company’s season off on the right foot.

Alberta Theatre Projects’ production of David Ives’ Venus in Fur runs from September 9-27, 2014 at the Martha Cohen Theatre (Epcor Centre for the Performing Arts).

For more information about the show, visit: http://www.atplive.com/2014-2015-Season/Venus-In-Fur/index.html

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