Tables do get thrown across an audition room at one point in Kelly Wynn Woodland’s lively and mostly involving production, but the play is more about the discoveries and revelations made by a playwright and director about himself as he auditions a young woman for the leading role in his adaptation of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s 1870 novel “Venus in Furs,” which inspired the term masochism.
The play begins with Steve O’Dea, as writer Thomas Novachek, frustrated after a long day of fruitless auditions when in bursts Vanda Jordan (played by Vera Samuels), hours after everyone else has left. She makes her presence known, both with her loud, open attitude and her suggestive clothing underneath a trenchcoat. Even though her name was not on the audition list, she somehow has a full script, which, over the course of the play’s 90-minutes, we realize she knows by heart.
Who is this woman? What has Thomas gotten himself into and does he want to get out of it? Is he having an encounter with Aphrodite himself?
Thomas has all the power in the room at the start as Vanda nervously begins to audition, but it doesn’t take long for her to truly become the novel’s main character, a woman who is urged to dominate the man she loves.
Vanda (or is it her character Wanda?) upends Thomas’ life as they run through the script in an audition that takes on more than just sexual overtones. There are threats, come-ons and frank discussions about power and meaning.
Samuels has no fear as an actress, whether it’s spewing profanity or insults or wearing barely-there slinky undergarments and thigh-high boots designed by Jonathan Hall. But it’s her commanding attitude that draws us into her performance, which could use just a bit of softening at its most brittle to make Vanda a little less abrasive. But she is captivating nonetheless.
O’Dea is more interesting as the writer/director Thomas than as the character he takes on during the audition reading, Severin von Kushemski. Thomas claims he’s not much of an actor, which may explain why there’s a blandness to his reading (though opposite Vanda, anything might seem bland). But O’Dea shows more variety in tone and attitude as the director trying to figure out how to get his play on and who this mysterious woman is.
Woodland’s staging keeps the action moving, yet allowing for brief moments of contemplation, so we’re always curious about what’s going to happen next, even if we’re a bit confused by what we’ve just witnessed.
Scenic designer Tim Wisgerhof has created a realistically drab audition room that is lit with some impact by Christian Londos.
“Venus in Fur” builds on what has been one of the more challenging and provocative seasons in recent years in the Stage II series, giving audiences a chance to relish something different and a bit shocking.
VENUS IN FUR
By David Ives. Directed by Kelly Wynn Woodland. Reviewed March 31, Venice Theatre Stage II, 140 W. Tampa Ave., Venice. Through April 17. Tickets are $29, $13-$15 for students. 941-488-1115