What do Dee Hoty (Rich Girl), Ellen McLaughlin (Good People) and Aisha Hinds (Best of Enemies) have in common? Each gave an outstanding star-turn this season at the George Street Playhouse. These three marvelous actresses are now joined by the female star of the final play of the 2012-2013 season, Jenni Putney.
Putney is superb as Vanda in David Ives’ powerful, provocative, sexual sparring-match “Venus in Fur.” Ives’ remarkable two character comedy, sharply directed by Kip Fagan, is set in a dingy Manhattan rental rehearsal hall where a young playwright/director Thomas, played effectively by Mark Alhadeff, has been holding unsuccessful auditions for the female lead in his play “Venus in Fur” an adaptation of the notorious erotic 1870 novel written by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (from whose name we get the term “masochism”).
Just as Thomas is about to leave, a young woman virtually erupts into the room apologising for her tardy arrival. He reluctantly agrees to let her read for the part. Over the next 90 minutes (no intermission) the audition moves at a very erotic level as the lines blur between the audition reading and reality, so much so, that a warning notice that “Venus in Fur” is suitable for audiences age 17 and over is required. The steamy high point is the “Kinky Boot” scene when Severin (Thomas) slips the thigh-high black leather boots onto Vanda’s shapely legs (photo).
Jenni Putney, making her George Street Playhouse debut in “Venus in Fur,” is delightfully quirky, funny, and yet sexy, as she moves seamlessly from her ditsy actress desperate for the role to the aristocratic temptress of the play. Putney, new to the East, has extensive West Coast credits. Mark Alhadeff is not new to the play having been the understudy for the original Broadway production that premiered Off-Broadway at the Classic Stage Company in 2010, and on Broadway in 2011. The Broadway production received two Tony Award nominations, including for Best Play and Best Actress in a Play.
Late last year the play attracted the attention of film maker Roman Polanski. His French film version is about to be released in May. Polanski, naturally, changed the location from New York to Paris. The film stars Polanski’s wife Emmanuelle Seigner and Mathieu Amalric.
Director Fagan’s production team includes: scenic design Jason Simms, costumes Richard St. Clair, lighting Thom Weaver, sound Bart Fasbender (great thunder!), fight director Thomas Schall, dialect coach Susan Cameron and production stage manager Thomas Clewell.
“Venus in Fur” is a fascinating, intelligent play about the struggle for sexual power, actually, domination. However, what makes this a remarkable theater experience is the excellence of the performances, particularly Jenni Putney’s Vanda. Please note: It is an erotic, sexy, black leather and lace comedy/drama but it should not embarrass anyone. No nudity.
Reviewed by Rick Busciglio April 28, 2013
”Venus in Fur” will run through May 18, 2013. Tickets, starting at $28, are available for purchase through the George Street Playhouse Box Office, 732-246-7717, or by visiting the Playhouse website: www.GSPonline.org. George Street Playhouse is located at 9 Livingston Avenue, in the heart of New Brunswick’s Dining and Entertainment District.
More about David Ives : He is the author of All in the Timing (winner of the Outer Critics Circle Playwriting Award); New Jerusalem: The Interrogation of Baruch de Spinoza (Hull-Warriner Award); The Lair (adapted from Coneille’s comedy, and winner of the Charles MacArthur Outstanding New Play Award); The School for Lies (adapted from Moliere’s The Misanthrope); Is He Dead? (adapted from Mark Twain); The Heir Apparent (adapted from Regnard); Irving Berling’s White Christmas and Polish Joke. He is a former Guggenheim Fellow in playwriting.