Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Review: VENUS IN FUR

By Toby Zinman

Review: VENUS IN FUR

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By Toby Zinman

For the Inquirer

“THOMAS:  You might say this play is about …beware of what you wish for.

VANDA: Because she might come walking in the door.”

And so she does.

In David Ives’ brilliant play--the production at Philadelphia Theatre Co.is dazzling--Thomas, a playwright who has been auditioning actresses all day long, wishes for an actress who can play the role of Vanda.  And in walks an actress named, of all things, Vanda, who, mysteriously, knows the script and who, hilariously, has a bag full of thrift store costumes to suit the part. So the play we’re watching is about this audition, and about role playing, about the power a director has over actors, about the power a playwright has over characters, about the power characters have over actors when they ‘become’ the role.

Venus in Fur is also about sexual desire and power: who’s got it, who wants it.  Vanda may be the Venus of the title, the goddess of love. If so, mess with her at your peril. 

Thomas’ play within Ives’ play is an adaptation of Sacher-Masoch’s sado-masochistic novel, Venus in Furs (plural); the German writer’s name put the M in S&M. And S&M is much like theatre, in that it depends on role-playing and costume-wearing. And because the play is necessarily erotic (wait for the thick and palpable hush that falls over the audience when Thomas puts Vanda’s boots on) it is surprising that it is also laugh out loud funny.  

Mark Alhadeff and Jenni Putney are riveting and moving and hilarious and very very agile as they switch accents in the middle of a line, switch genders in the middle of a scene, switch centuries over and over again. And their power to dominate the audience and make us laugh or gasp is superb.  Kip Fagan,  the actual director of this production, must have been very stern indeed with these actors to get such great results.   

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Philadelphia Theatre Co. Broad & Lombard Sts. Through June 23. Tickets

$46-59. Information 215-985-0420 or PhiladelphiaTheatreCompany.org

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About this blog
Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer. She also is a contributing writer for Variety and American Theatre magazine. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of four books about four playwrights (Rabe, McNally, Miller, Albee), and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). Her 'weekend' job as a travel writer provides adventure: dogsledding in the Yukon, ziplining in Belize, walking coast-to-coast across England, and cowboying in the Australian Outback.


Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.


Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.


Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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