Thursday, March 13, 2014

'Venus in Fur' at the Performance Network Theatre

The alternately light and dark Maggie Meyer as Vanda, an auditioning actress

The Performance Network Theatre had some fun with its most recent production of David Ives' "Venus in Fur." The theater lobby features "peepshow" drawings of naked women and paintings of suggestively arranged fruit. (Are those avocados or are you just happy to see me?) Maggie Meyer vamps around the stage as the auditioning actress Vanda, wisecracking about her Victorian dress (from a secondhand store) and her dog collar ("leftover from when I was a prostitute"). The plot--superficially the story of an underemployed actress auditioning for a role in Thomas's (Sebastian Gerstner) adaptation of a novel--can be watched as a wink-wink, nudge-nudge revenge fantasy for all struggling actors who have suffered at the hands of pompous writers/directors. The dialogue is snappy, the dress is sexy, and more than once the bottom drops out on everything you know.

It's easy to see that Meyer is the pièce de résistance of this production. She flits effortlessly from accessible Brooklyn charmer to Victorian female lead to domineering Mistress. In all these iterations, her character holds the cards--she asks the questions, she stages the reveals, she smolders coyly and quips cleverly. With Meyer, the play and the audience, if not Thomas himself, are in good hands. We may never know anything more about Vanda than that she is entertaining. That, for the purposes of a night out, is enough.

The point-of-view character is Thomas, who opens the play complaining to his fiance on the phone about all the stupid, young actresses who were unable to fulfill his ideal for the role of the dominatrix Wanda (coincidence?). He's the kind of smug navel-gazer we love to hate, and it's satisfying when Vanda, late to the audition and seemingly unprepared, first starts batting him around like a cat with a mouse. (She guesses that he read the source material Venus in Furs by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch in the original German. "I did, actually," he responds, his tone softening toward her, all melted butter at her insight into his genius. Vanda cannot laugh, but the audience does.) Gerstner hits the right notes as Thomas, a maddening and--from my perspective--ultimately disappointing character. And because the story is so much a psychological analysis of Thomas, we bump up unsatisfactorily against his limitations. By the end, I wanted out of his world, perhaps to grab a coffee with Vanda. Let's talk about her stuff for a while.

The show runs until April 6. Get your tickets here.

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