By Barbara B. Covell
For the TODAY
It takes courage, patience, talent and skill to create extraordinary theater. The courage of a writer to originate a vision and a script. The patience of a director to translate the written words into a physical set with crafted performances by actors. The talent of actors who interpret the script and director’s vision, creating riveting performances for audiences to digest and take home. And finally, the skill required from writers, directors, actors and a dedicated crew to transform the written words into a live, meaningful production.
This is the formula which New Vision Arts and director Marc Maislen have richly woven into David Ives’ “Venus in Fur,” opening Friday, Oct. 13, at the Newport Performing Arts Center. Quite possibly the most erotic, tantalizing, edgy, yet funny show to hit the Newport stage, “Venus in Fur” is a masterpiece and commentary which presents a woman’s voice in a strangely sordid psychosexual man’s world.
But, this is not a typical one-dimensional war-of-the-sexes. It is an erotic power play between a man and a woman who portray different characters in an epic storyline. Maislen’s direction and script interpretation might leave audiences breathless from the psychological dance he expertly choreographs.
The essence of “Venus in Fur” is a study in the slippery power dynamics between men and women. There is a cast of two, a man and woman, who remain onstage throughout the entire show, which has no intermission. Playwright Ives’ storyline unfolds as an adaptation of the classic sadomasochistic novel “Venus in Furs,” written in 1870 by Austrian author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, whose name inspired the term masochism.
The play begins with New York writer-director Thomas Novachek, who has penned a show based on Sacher-Masoch’s novel. He laments his lack of success in finding a suitable actress to portray his lead character, Vanda von Dunayev. The door opens and an unknown actress, oddly named Vanda Jordan, presents herself for an unscheduled reading. Vanda is brash, vulgar and unschooled, hardly Novachek’s vision of the sophisticated, dominant lead character. But Vanda has prepared a bag of props and seductively persuades Novachek to read with her. Lightning flashes and thunder crashes outside as Vanda performs beautifully, demonstrating great knowledge of the novel and her character. Vanda’s secretive manner entices Novachek to play a dangerous game of dominance and submission. This play within a play explores manipulation and entrapment to new levels.
“Venus is a powerful statement for Woman being recognized as an individual and going beyond being viewed as an object,” Maislen said. “The dynamic between the Novachek and Vanda is electric. He’s assured and thinks he knows women. She’s a mess but strategically strips him of his persona. The balance between comedy, power grabbing, erotic material and mythology is delivered in Ives’ writing.”
Minda Stiles portrays Vanda and Jeffrey Wilson is Thomas Novachek. These two actors give tour de force performances, slipping in and out of character without a beat. They hold intricate power over each other, performing gamesmanship to a level rarely seen in community theatre. Stiles’ ability to draw the audience into a seductive blur is matched by Wilson’s transitions from a base of power to a whimpering victim. These actors shift personas seamlessly for more than an hour and 40 minutes without an intermission. They use every inch of the set, which was designed to be simple, yet effective. Watching these two dynamic actors work through this heavily worded and physical show is a phenomenal experience.
“As a director, my job is to pull from the actors the truth of their character and give them insights into the text so they can personalize it and bring it forth for the stage,” Maislen said. “Bringing Minda and Jeff’s characters to intimacy through their words and building a real connection that audiences can feel made the collaboration exciting and scary.”
The lighting and technical nuances also add much to this performance, as evidenced in the crash of thunder and splash lightening. Ernest Brown is the tech director, and Marc Maislen designed the set and lighting. Stage manager is Rhodd Caldwell and costumes are by Sherre Robbins.
“Venus in Fur,” an adult comedy with strong language, opens on Friday, Oct. 13, and runs through Sunday, Oct. 29, with 7 pm performances each Friday and Saturday and 2 pm matinées on Sundays.
Tickets, $15 in advance or $17 at the door, are available by calling 541-265-2787 or online atwww.coastarts.org.