Presented by Huntington Theatre Company
By David Ives
Inspired by the novel by Leopold von Sacher Masoch
Directed by Daniel Goldstein
This show is not for children. Don’t take them unless you like paying for visits to the psychologist.
***Potential Trigger Warnings***
(Boston) The misogynistic pop hit, “Blurred Lines” blew up the radios last summer. For those unfamiliar with the tune, vocalists Robin Thicke, Pharrell Williams and rapper T.I. engage in sexist boondoggle to try to convince the object of their bleeting to sleep with them. “Blurred Lines” is about coercion. In a sexual context, coercion is rape. There is nothing blurred about the lyrics used in their song (as explained here and here).
In other contexts “blurred lines” can be a metaphor for the skewed boundaries between two or more characters entering into unknown relationship territory. For example, in Huntington Theatre Co’s Venus in Fur the lines between characters and their roles in the story arc are blurred. Thomas and Vanda begin the play as strangers with a clearly defined characters. Over the course of the play, who they are as individuals and to each other is disrupted when fate plays her hand.
Venus in Fur is excellent. Bravo to the Huntington, you have a winner! It is the tale of Thomas (Chris Kipiniak), a harried director and playwright closing up shop after a long day of auditions. He’s calling his wife before he locks the door when Vanda (Andrea Syglowski) runs in for a last minute audition for the role of Vanda (you read that correctly). She is so convincing that he stays all night.
Kipiniak and Sygloski have a chemistry so palpable that you could reach out and lick it. Kipiniak is as sloppily attractive and taboo as the college professor you wanted to sleep with Junior year. He endows Thomas with enough knowledge and sincere feelings to warm the pants off of any undergrad. Syglowski at first presents like a pre-2007 Britney Spears (before the tragic breakdown) but slowly reveals her great depth like a secret. Although their work as a team is impressive it is Syglowski that makes Venus a success.
Syglowski is equal parts impetuous and clueless in her Venus audition. The entire room expected Vanda the auditionee to be a terrible actress. When Vanda the actress folds herself into Thomas’ work until she is inseparable from the feminine Vanda of the script, the entire room, including audience, is caught up in shock and awe. Thomas’ dumbstruck face matches our own. Syglowski is captivating as she slinks between the two Vandas. Her’s is a portrayal of great depth and versatility. The entire show glistens with stirring moments like these that director Daniel Goldstein weaves together to make the piece whole.
Venus is indirectly about pain, female sexual objectification, healthy female sexuality, domination, gender roles and the blurred lines between. The play makes a point to state over and again that it is not about S&M, porn or even abuse. Above all other things, Venus is directly about control. Thomas iterates that his play is about two adults who love each other through pain. Ives purposefully makes Thomas ignorant of S&M domination basics. It takes a lot of respect and love to dominate another person. Practitioners abide by agreed rules and boundaries*. The person being dominated has all of the control. If only Thomas had known.
This is not your average, run of the mill sexy show about sex. The most powerful moments in the play aren’t about sex but about power. I liken watching this production to my experience watching Ang Lee’s provocative film, Lust, Caution, in the theater with friends. The emotional violence on screen was more uncomfortable than the painfully graphic sex. Dinner after was pointlessly awkward. Venus in Fur is an electric production but it isn’t for everyone. Robin Thicke et al should be given tickets immediately so they can brush up on their dramatic education.
*It’s not my job to teach you. Do your own research.