The age-old battle of the sexes gets some modern twists in David Ives’ 2011 Broadway comedy-drama “Venus in Fur.” Raleigh Little Theatre has mounted an effective production, centered by a boldly daring performance from the female lead.
Ives’ two-character, 90-minute one-act is set in a rehearsal room where theater director Thomas has been auditioning actresses for a play he’s adapted from an erotic 19th century novel by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. The term “masochist” was coined because of its plot about a man so enamored with a woman that he asks her to treat him as a slave and humiliate him.
Thomas is frustrated because none of the auditionees came close to his ideal. As he is about to leave, Vanda, a frazzled, rain-spattered young woman, bursts in, distractedly exclaiming her excuses for being late. She begs Thomas to let her audition, and, over his many objections, she convinces him by revealing she’s brought along appropriate costuming, both ladylike and dominatrix-ready.
Thomas is taken aback by Vanda’s transformation once she begins to read her lines, demonstrating uncanny perception of the role’s depths. As Thomas reads the man’s part, he begins to assume the role, adding a play-within-a-play aspect. Ives’ clever, literate script keeps the audience guessing about both characters’ true natures and drops in several big surprises not to be revealed here.
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Director Rod Rich (from the co-producing Actors Comedy Lab) keeps the play tightly paced, making full use of Joncie Sarratt’s aptly dingy set, Joshua C. Allen’s stormy lighting and sound engineer John Maruca’s booming thunder.
Diana Cameron McQueen attacks the dream role of Vanda with gusto, growing in power as the play unfolds, manifesting Vanda’s dangerous sensuality with total aplomb. Tony Lea knowingly projects Thomas’ initial smirky confidence and later inevitable enthrallment with Vanda’s allure.
The production leans more towards the comic, softening some of the sexual tension that would give the staging even greater nuance. Still, the production is a strong one and proves that community theater doesn’t have to be bland and safe.