Friday, January 29, 2010

Venus In Fur Is Alright Tonight

There are certain bragging rights that come with seeing an actor before he/she hits it big. Those who see relative newcomer Nina Arianda in Venus In Fur will be witnessing her breakout role, and I expect we'll be seeing much more of her in the future.

At the Classic Stage Company through February 21, Venus In Fur is a sexy, entertaining show that runs a fast-paced 90 minutes with no intermission. It takes place during an audition with only the actress Vanda (Arianda) and writer/director Thomas (Wes Bentley) in the room. She missed her appointed time and he is about to leave, but he decides to let her read, with him acting opposite. Thomas's play is based on the 1870 novella by Leopold Sacher-Masoch. The power dynamic constantly shifts throughout the course of the evening, between Vanda and Thomas and the characters they are playing.

David Ives has written snappy, funny dialogue and smartly shifts between the scenes in the play and the "play." Unfortunately, Venus In Fur struggles towards its unsatisfying conclusion as Vanda starts to reveal her true self. This has to do with the writing, not Arianda's dynamic performance. She excels at everything that is required of her, making her switch from a comic ditz to a calculating seductress believable. She completely overshadows Bentley, who stumbles over his lines and seems less assured of himself, but then again she does have the meatier role. Fortunately, the co-stars do have chemistry, or the play would not work.

Director Walter Bobbie has a long partnership with Ives, and his understanding of the material is evident. The production is also aided by John Lee Beatty's (who I think has designed most of the shows I've seen recently) sterile set and Peter Kaczorowki's appropriate fluorescent lighting.

Note: I was given complimentary tickets to see the show in exchange for writing a review.

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