Pat Launer, Center Stage on KSDS JAZZ88
November 22, 2013
You don’t expect to see pole-dancing at the theater. But that’s just one of many dramatic – and sensual – talents of Caroline Kinsolving , who gives a knockout career-defining performance in “Venus in Fur.” As the suggestive title might suggest, this is one sexy show.
The setup is an audition. The actress arrives hours late, frazzled, rain-soaked, bedraggled and cursing like a sailor. The director is exhausted after a frustrating day of seeing 35 “incompetent” hopefuls, half of whom, he complains, “dress like hookers, and half like dikes,” and all are unable to even begin to act feminine. Vanda, who amazingly, has the same name as the character she’s seeking to play, doesn’t seem to have the goods, either.
Then she puts on a lacy Victorian dress and magically transforms into an imperious, headstrong woman of the late 19th century, reciting her lines impeccably in a new adaptation of ” Venus in Furs,” the 1870 erotic, autobiographical novella penned by Austrian Leopold von Sacher-Masoch , who lent his name to the term Masochism, a practice that features prominently in the play and the play-within-a-play.
This Tony-nominated creation by the brilliant playwright David Ives is a stunning, whip-smart, often-amusing cat-and-mouse pas de deux . The power dynamics turn on a dime, as the story becomes increasingly dark and dangerous. There are so many layers of supremacy and subordination: male/female, director/actor, creator /muse. Love, sex, lust, fantasy, reality; all become intertwined and inextricable.
One of the glories of this marvelous San Diego Repertory Theatre production is the hairpin turns of locution, emotion and dominance. While Vanda embodies the sensuous, controlling woman, Thomas is channeling Sacher-Masoch himself. There’s an ever-shifting landscape of what’s real and who’s on top. At the end, spent from all the stimulation, we’re left with a revelation and the potential for destruction. It’s a breath-holding, leg-crossing, electrifying experience.
Kinsolving is a wonder, her body as exquisite and passionate as her acting. She’s superbly paired with Jeffrey Meek, who gives as good as he gets, completely convincing in his overheated states of fancy, fury and arousal. Watching him slowly encase her legs in shiny, black, thigh-high boots is quite the titillating experience.
An astutely written, carefully balanced psychosexual comic drama like this requires dual perspectives, and Rep artistic director Sam Woodhouse wisely brought in a co-director from the distaff side: UCSD professor Kim Rubenstein.
The set, lighting and sound contribute mightily to the high-intensity ambiance. And then there’s the costumes – especially striking and provocative for Vanda. There’s just one element missing: the titular fur. Sumptuous pelts feature prominently in the multiple levels of story, and not to have any of the luscious downy softness seems a shame. But there’s plenty here to excite your senses. Perhaps cold showers should be on offer in the lobby.
“Venus in Fur” runs through December 8, at the San Diego Repertory
Theatre in Horton Plaza.
©2013 PAT LAUNER