As a gay man, I’ve always found that whole “war-between-the.sexes” concept puzzling. How on earth do (did, now that same-sex marriage is legal) married couples stay together if neither side trusts the other, or is afraid of the other? Same sex couples, at least gay men anyway, seem to have it so much easier; we, at least, understand each other, whereas men and women are wired differently. Presumably there are straight couples who are friends.
I’m still not sure I totally understand (but then I never understood a Porsche Sport Utility vehicle either), but I now have a better understanding of the dynamics, thanks to this marvelous production. As of this publishing, the piece is still in previews, but it’s running through March 9.
It’s premise is simple: a playwright/director is casting for his play, an adaptation of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s kinky classic Venus in Furs. As this two-character play opens, Thomas (Michael Tisdale) has just burned out after a day of auditioning dozens of women for the part of the female protagonist. He’s ready to leave his loft/studio space for an evening with his fiancee when in comes Vonda (Gillian Williams). She’s late for the audition, for reasons which make sense to any New Yorker, but still wants the chance to audition. Of course, she talks the reluctant Thomas into agreeing.
And there unfolds the play-within-a-play as the two bicker, act, and improvise. They shift in and out of their script, argue over who’s exploiting whom, and switch roles in every way possible. A lot happens in this 110-minute one-acter, but the time goes fast, and the play ends somewhere no one expected.
On Broadway, the show received a Tony nomination for Best Drama, and it’s Vonda, Nina Arianda, snagged the Best Dramatic Actress. It’s now the most produced play in the US, with over 22 productions either performed, in production, or planned. Ives certainly struck a cord with this one.
And the SRT production does it justice. Sibyl Wickersheimer‘s cavernous set somehow also seems intimate at times, thanks to Geoff Kork‘s lighting. It’s plays like this one where one can really appreciate the close collaboration is needed between these two. Harmony Arnold designed the costumes, which range from professional to kinky, and Robertson Witmer served as sound designer/composer.
But pulling it all together is director Shana Cooper, a director with impressive cred, and making her debut with the Rep (as are the two actors). She keeps the pacing tight, and understands the sexual dynamics well enough to keep it all balanced.
The two actors, Tisdale and Williams, are likewise Rep newbies, but after this show they should definitely return. Both roles require a series of transformations; Tisdale from harried writer to confident actor to, somehow, willing submissive. But it’s Williams who has to be believable, as she goes thru desperation to confident seductress to ball-breaking bitch-goddess and passionate lover. Both interplay expertly and their chemisty develops before our eyes. Beneath all this, though, runs the underlying conflict over women’s sexuality, and how men deal with it.
You don’t need a fur (or even leather or rubber) to see this play. All you need is the time, so take the time. And enjoy the ride.