Guest reviewer Rick Busciglio (www.njfootlights.net)
March 25, 2018
The Chester Theatre Group‘s CTG Black Box Productions is ending a seven performance run of David Ives unique two character play Venus in Fur. This is the first of a plan to present titles that wouldn’t normally be included in their regular season. By giving audiences, actors and directors a venue for smaller, off-beat plays that do not rely on larger sets, elaborate costumes, or similar production values, they strive to offer something different for those that appreciate the unusual. Venus in Fur, an erotic treat of sorts, clearly fits that strategy.
The play’s original Broadway production premiered Off-Broadway 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. Last Fall it was revived in London. The Guardian reviewer wrote: “depressingly timely as allegations of sexual assault by the disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein continue to surface.”
This month CTG’s fine director Stephen Catron set about creating his own version of this erotic romp. Since it is a minimalist set with only two characters who only engage in verbal combat, successful, spot-on casting was, naturally, paramount. Catron succeeded beautifully with the casting of the attractive Sky Spiegel Monroe as the aspiring actress Vanda and Joe Guadara as the auditioning playwright/director Thomas. Both are marvelous in these challenging roles that demand a roller coaster of sexual sparring.
The plot: Set in a dingy Manhattan rental rehearsal hall where a young playwright/director Thomas, played effectively by Joe Guardara, 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 apologizing for her tardy arrival. He reluctantly agrees to let her read for the part. Over the next 90 minutes (no intermission) the audition moves to 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 legs.
Sky Spiegel Monroe is perfect as the delightfully quirky, funny, and yet sexy Vanda. She moves seamlessly from her ditsy actress desperate for the role to the aristocratic temptress of the play within a play. Joe Guadara is amazing as he rides his own roller coaster of emotions playing opposite a pretty young lady clad in only her lingerie! He is a truly fine actor who nails this difficult part flawlessly.
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. Please note: It is an erotic, sexy, black leather and lace comedy/drama but it should not embarrass anyone. No nudity.