“Venus In Fur” Review

July 8, 2014

“Venus In Fur” Review

By Lawrence Bullock

I’ve just come home after seeing “Venus In Fur”, a play by David Ives, performed here in Mendocino under the auspices of Rock the Ground Theater, an independent theatrical hurricane of a company conjured by Hugh Dignon and fellow artists. Hugh Dignon, artistic director of the company, and director of “Venus In Fur”, wraps his theatrical philosophy around a rock fan’s attitude and comes up, in this instance, with one of the most refreshing, clear, sexy and intrigueing pieces of theater I’ve had the pleasure to see in a while.

…one of the most refreshing, clear, sexy and intrigueing pieces of theater I’ve had the pleasure to see in a while.

I don’t mention the “rock fan” attitude in a frivolous or throwaway manner: I mean it in the sense of putting the ensemble together, finding the groove and letting the material and the artists have their head(although I could see the steady hand of the director at work).

This show rumbled, it roared. (I write that in the past tense as this was the last show of its run.) As the program sums it up, the play is “set in a rehearsal hall in Manhattan, an actress auditions for a gifted but demanding playwright/director, and she insists that he read his adaptation of a classic novel about sexual domination with her.” (Just as a side note, I actually found the novel, “Venus In Fur” at the thrift store about two years ago, bought it and tried to read it three times before giving up. It didn’t grab me. I returned it to the thrift. I found myself regretting that while watching tonight.)

Emily Anthony, as Vanda, the actress, was by turns coy, threatening, bashful, shy, demanding, ambivalent and ambiguous (that’s an inside joke) but always totally in control. This actress knows her shit, as they say. She’s inside the skin of Vanda and you don’t see any seams. Bruce Cole, as the demanding playwright, was the perfect match for Anthony’s energy. Cole brought a responsive sensibility of acquiescence (which is essential for a director) without losing the drive that a two hander needs to prohibit it from turning into a one actor tour de force. He, too, knew his shit, as they say. They play a magnifcent tug of war as the reluctant director finally allows the late -for- the -audition actress to read against him in an audition that soon morphs into a more than meets the eye philosophical and sexual power struggle.

Another side note: A fellow audience member began to chat me up at intermission, trying to ascertain what I thought the play “meant”. I replied that it was difficult to know without having seen the whole thing and that it might actually have a meaning that would encompass the inability of oneself to know oneself. I don’t think that satisfied him. I hope it didn’t. That’s the nature of theatre, I believe. You shouldn’t be satisfied with one answer.

Hugh and his cast should be proud of this. A rock-solid performance.

— Lawrence Bullock, Audience Member