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.
Philadelphia Theatre Co. Broad & Lombard Sts. Through June 23. Tickets
$46-59. Information 215-985-0420 or PhiladelphiaTheatreCompany.org