Whip-Cracking Fun in Venus in Fur at Orlando Shakes

ORLANDO — As the kind of guy who gives nerds a bad rep, Thomas is uptight, overly serious, and annoyingly snippy. He’s written a play based on the 1870 novella Venus In Furs by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch about a man longing to be dominated and humiliated by the right woman, giving birth to the term masochism. In a crummy little theatre with a heating pole in the middle of the room, Thomas has just auditioned a bunch of talentless actresses for the lead role of Wanda the dominatrix. Frustrated and highly agitated, Thomas phones his breadwinner girlfriend to say he’ll be home soon.

Then a big thunderstorm breaks out, and as it does, in charges Vanda, an aspiring actress who swears her agent got her an appointment and she’s so so sorry to be late. Vanda is a train wreck: she’s dressed all wrong and is loud and vulgar, and Thomas decides to quickly send her on her way so he can get home. But after much pleading from Vanda, Thomas finally agrees to let her read a couple of pages of the script with him.

Surprise.

As it turns out, klutzy Vanda is terrific in the role. She captures Wanda brilliantly, and Thomas is stunned at how good she is. Flabbergasted even, and he starts getting excited.

Ah, but … there’s a catch.

David Ives’ hilarious play Venus In Fur gleefully massacres the male ego, then chews it up and spits it out. The Broadway hit has found its way to the Orlando Shakespeare Theater, which not only delivers a fabulous version of the play, but deserves extra kudos for perfect casting in Walter Kmiec and Tracie Lane. It’s a show you don’t want to miss.

What is the play Venus In Fur?

Ives’ two person play premiered Off-Broadway in 2010 and then made its way to Broadway a year later, drawing rave reviews for its hilarious look at how much has — and hasn’t — changed since Masoch’s day. In 2014, Ives wrote the screenplay for a film version directed by Roman Polanski.

While Thomas was eager to get home to his fiancee, he’s so bowled over by Vanda’s reading that he stays to continue reading critical passages in his play with her. Even though Thomas is the playwright and director and swears he’s not an actor, he settles in nicely to acting out the role of Severin, the man who became a devoted masochist after a childhood incident where his aunt caned him for misbehaving. There’s a certain amount of elation in Thomas’ eye as he acts out Severin’s humiliation, and Vanda picks up on that with a smile that suggests she’s relishing every minute of it.

When Thomas’ fiance calls to check on him, he makes excuses and swears he’ll be leaving soon, but it’s obvious that he’s settling in with Vanda for a long stormy night.

What’s going on here? Who the heck is this mysterious Vanda? Turns out she knows his script by heart — despite saying she just glanced at it on the subway — and she’s read the book, too. She even claims to know Thomas’s girlfriend, having met her many times at the gym.

That’s all I’m going to say. You’ll need to stick around for the entirety of this 90 minute play, performed without intermission, to savor the deliciously cruel twist ending.

How is the Orlando Shakes’ Production?

The play has a well designed, and suitably crummy, little theatre with Thomas’s desk and coffee machine behind it, that heating pole in the center, and a couch to the left, plus the large windows that give us a vivid sense of the heavy rainstorm going on outside.

Besides the high quality of Ives’ play, the real reason to see this one is the performers, who totally knock this one out of the ballpark.

Kmiec is just terrific as the uptight Thomas, so irritatingly impatient at first, certain that his play is a grand work of art (you’re likely to question that notion as the play goes on), and then he’s marvelous as Thomas slowly fades into the role of Severin and discovers his own inner masochist. By the end, Kmiec gives us a quivering, sniveling Thomas that’s a joy to watch.

Lane does an equally terrific job as Vanda — she comes on so strongly, and so obnoxiously, in the beginning that you’re likely to be just as amazed as Thomas when her reading is spot-on perfect. THe more that Vanda comments on the quality of Thomas’ play, and insinuates herself into his life, the more fascinating she becomes, and Lane’s high-energy performance is a marvel to watch.

The ending alone is, as the current phrase goes, Da Bomb, and two superb actors really pull it off beautifully. Go, soon. And catch this one!

Where Can I See Venus In Fur?

Venus In Fur is now being performed at the Orlando Shakespeare Theater, 812 E. Rollins St. in Loch Haven Park. The show runs now through March 3. To purchase tickets or to get more information, call the Box Office at  (407) 447-1700.

Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright, and author of the book A Christmas Eve Story. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com.

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