‘Venus in Fur’, by the Huntington Theatre Company

‘Venus in Fur’ Written by David Ives; Directed by Daniel
Goldstein; Produced by the Huntington Theatre Company at the Avenue of the
Arts, 264 Huntington Ave. Boston, MA. Performances through Feb 2nd.

“Shiny, shiny boots of leather. Whiplash girl-child in the
dark.”  – Lou
Reed “Venus in Furs”

If you’re the type that is always looking for a bargain, a big bang
for the buck as it were, this is a play that delivers on so many levels. My friend
is like that. A bargain hunter who never pays to park in Boston and never
checks his coat and hat – loved this play, and so did I. Who doesn’t
love a sweet deal? First of all it’s a play-within-a-play – two plays
for the price of one! It’s a comedy, and a mystery, and an erotic
performance, and even a play with a social conscience.  All that in one visit to the BU Theatre. Now
that’s a bargain!

Let’s look at the first item – the play-within-a-play. “Venus in Fur’
is about a playwright named ‘Thomas’ who has written a play based on a
real-life book, the novella “Venus in Furs”.  Published in 1870 by Leopold von
Sacher-Masoch, it’s the story of a relationship involving sado-masochistic
sexuality. The sort of thing found in great-grandfather’s sock drawer at the
time – if your great-grandfather was kinky. Yes,
Sacher-Masoch is the person who will
forever be known for giving us the term “masochism”. Personally, I’d
rather go down in history as the father of penicillin, but there you go.

So this is a play about Thomas, the playwright and ‘Vanda’, the
hopeful actress who together at the end of a long day of failed auditions work
through the play based on the book. The fun (and heat) comes when the
reality of one play begins to interweave and entrap the reality of the other.
Before long it’s hard to tell when the actors are reading from the script and
when they are talking from the heart – or the libido.

Another aspect of this show, the comedy, owes much to the stellar
actress playing Vanda, Andrea Syglowski. From the moment she barrels onto the
scene, rain-drenched and swearing up a blue streak, she is captivating and
scorchingly funny. There are many hearty laughs, not only from her witty
delivery, but from watching her hilarious facial expressions throughout.  This role is a smorgasbord of
characterizations, and a goldmine for the actress that can pull it off, and
Miss Syglowski does an amazing job with this role. She is at once funny,
street-wise, adorable, steamy and dangerous. This is the role by which Nina
Arianda made a name for herself, taking it from off-Broadway to Broadway with
smashing success.  It has to be one of
the most demanding roles I’ve seen, as Vanda becomes a trashy, street-smart
city girl, a ditsy blonde minimum-wager, a whip cracking dominatrix and a sexy
goddess, often within a single stretch of dialogue.

Chris Kipiniak is the only other actor on stage, playing the subdued,
intelligent Thomas, and he’s the epitome of a moody playwright. Wisely, he plays the role in muted fashion
, letting Vanda’s characters-within-her-character prowl the
stage. After all, it’s not called “Venus and Friends in Fur”.

All good plays have some air of mystery going on at some level, and Vanda
is the center of the mystery in this play. From the start she seems too wrong
for the role – then too perfect for it. She is not on Thomas’ call sheet yet she
comes in with script in hand – even though only parts of the script were given
out for the auditions. Vanda deflects his questions and says she just had a
brief chance to look it over on the train ride there, yet she knows her lines
without so much as glancing at the script. The well-timed storm outside might
also begin to make you wonder what’s really going on.

As for the social conscience in the work, throughout the play there
runs an underlying theme regarding the battle of the sexes and the conditions
women find themselves in when living in a male-dominated world. While the basis
of the work is a book from the 1800’s the message is still relevant given that
many of the performances of this play bring cheers and knowing laughter from
the groups of women in the audience.

Is this a sexy play? Without a doubt. Is it too sexy to sit and enjoy
without feeling uncomfortable in a theatre full of people? No, and that is in
large part thanks to the joyous and multifaceted performance of Andrea
Syglowski.  Yes, she is sexy and yes, she
is dressed in leather and lace but there is so much going on in her performance
that the sexuality is just one slice of the overall experience.  Having said that – it wouldn’t be a bad date
night.  See this with your close friend,
a group of the ladies, or your bargain hunting buddy. It’s well worth your time
and money. Just remember – Hell has no fury like a woman scorned. For more info,
go to http://www.huntingtontheatre.org/season/2013-2014/venus-in-fur/