A dark and stormy night (literally). Playwright-director Thomas is preparing to leave his studio, having failed to find a suitable actress for his play “Venus in Fur”, adapted from a 1870 erotic novel by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (after whom “masochism” is named). In stumbles Vanda, a ditzy actress late for the auditions, displaying little sexual gravitas until she casually slips out of her trench coat to reveal her ooh-la-la little get-up: black bra, panties and garters.
As she puts on her accent and imperious bearing as the lead female character in the play — a dominatrix who takes the author for a slave — the fun begins.
Thomas is enthralled, and together with him, we slip and in and out of the play’s perverse universe of seeing the pleasure in pain and degradation. But who is the master and who is the slave? Over the course of the audition, the power dynamic seesaws between the pair, sliding between the relationships of sadist-masochist, director-actor, man-woman.
This is a highly watchable production of the much-feted, Tony Award-nominated Broadway play, ably performed by American actors Steffanie Leigh and Anson Mount. David Ives’ script is a sophisticated creature that skips playfully between fiction and reality, and provides an intelligent humour that wears its knowledge of psychosexual power play lightly.
As a leave-the-kids-at-home night out for the grown-ups, it is titillating enough. But the problem is that the sexual frisson never gets maxed and the element of danger and transgression never gets pushed over the edge. Indonesian-born, New York-based director Ed Sylvanus Iskandar outlines grand, mythological concepts of the Id and the Ego in his director’s notes but the intricacies of his direction leave more to be desired: the rushing over of moments that need to be dragged out, a certain flatness in the staging that smooths out the dark kinks, leaving the dialogue feeling mechanical and tiresome.
The two leads start off well, dancing and playing off each other with sexual electricity in the room. But the tautness and charge of their initial interactions gradually fizzle out into a stagey, hammy kind of play-acting, culminating in a dubious ending that they don’t quite manage to pull off.
“Venus in Fur”, March 18, DBS Arts Centre. The play runs until April 6. Tickets are available here.