Theatre is a unique medium; it offers the opportunity to showcase odd stories without being too concerned about box office. Sure every production should be trying to make money, but there is a lot more room for experimentation on the stage than there is on the screen. David Ives is one of the men taking these kinds of chances. His one-act collection All in the Timing is an influential and inspirational work. Ives continues to sharpen his craft in his most recent play, Venus in Fur.
The play operates on many levels. On the surface it shows us a young woman, Vanda, auditioning for the newest play by a semi-famous playwright, Thomas. Thomas’ play is also called Venus in Fur, and is based on a real-life novella by Austrian author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. The fact that Ives himself adapts the story for the purposes of the play only adds a level of surreality to the proceeding. There is already a blurred line (reference!) between the reality of the play and the play-within-the-play, and the ambiguous autobiographical nature of Ives’ work blurs that line even further into our reality. Imagine if Charlie Kaufman wrote a play.
I’m not really making any sense, but neither is Venus in Fur. It doesn’t need to, really. The story begins in a very straightforward fashion, but as the narrative advances you start to realize this is a modern myth concerned with greater ideas about the very nature of human interaction, and the dominance and subjugation inherent to them. Power shifts back and forth between the two characters several times throughout the course of the play, but by the end of the script it is made pretty clear who was in control the entire time.
The question of dominance is not handled subtly by Ives’ characters, but that is okay. Text is rarely subtle in a stageplay; such things cannot be conveyed as effectively through performance nuances. Instead the subtlety comes from the subtext of the story. And there is a lot of subtext in Venus in Fur. I’m not sure if all of it makes sense, but I will be thinking about it for a little while. The play is a puzzle, and the obvious solution we find at the end is not necessarily the best solution.