S&M com­edy stim­u­lat­ing

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Kevin Prokosh

‘WHO are you, Vanda Jor­dan?” a gob­s­macked di­rec­tor asks an enig­matic woman who has crashed his au­di­tion and ap­pears too good to be true.

It’s a ques­tion au­di­ence mem­bers of the slick S & M com­edy Venus in Fur also ask them­selves from the time she ar­rives on a dark, stormy night, with a thun­der­clap, late for try­outs for Thomas’s new play. His script is based on Sacher Masoch’s 1870 novella of the same name, the story of noble­man Sev­erin’s quest to be dom­i­nated by his lover Wanda.

The chau­vin­ist Thomas has just whined bit­terly to his fi­ancée over the phone about the day’s ill-suited au­di­tion­ers, but as he pre­pares to go home with his fe­male role un­cast, in blows this fraz­zled blond drop­ping bags and F-bombs. Vanda ap­pears to be another scat­ter-brained loose can­non, but Thomas caves, un­able to with­stand this kooky force of na­ture, and lets her read for the part op­po­site him­self as the rich he­donist Sev­erin.

She doffs her coat and goes to work in her black bra, garter belt, stilet­toes, leather bustier and dog-col­lar and ap­pears to pos­sess all the an­noy­ing at­tributes Thomas re­viles in con­tem­po­rary ac­tresses. Vanda then sur­pris­ingly tran­si­tions into a so­phis­ti­cated 19th-cen­tury woman of the world, but in a blink re­turns to ir­re­sistible blond air­head do­ing end-zone dances and squeal­ing like a school­girl. As they read more of his play, they switch ac­cents, gen­ders and cen­turies over and over again.

Amer­i­can play­wright David Ives spends the rest of this sexy 95-minute pas de deux or­ches­trat­ing a se­duc­tive strug­gle for con­trol. In the RMTC Ware­house sea­son-opener, Ives takes an en­ter­tain­ing look at the power dy­namic be­tween a di­rec­tor and an ac­tor, a man and a woman, all the while blur­ring the lines be­tween pre­tend and re­al­ity. It hardly ap­pears a fair fight, but Vanda has game as a dom­i­na­trix. What’s es­pe­cially fun to watch is po­si­tion, power and in­tel­lect lit­er­ally brought to its knees by base sex­ual de­sire. That’s not a ground-break­ing sce­nario, but still crisply pre­sented by di­rec­tor Christo­pher Brauer in his aus­pi­cious RMTC Ware­house de­but.

As the pair act out the play within the play, the iden­tity of this mys­te­ri­ous woman be­comes more per­plex­ing. Vanda has the same name as her stage char­ac­ter — at least it sounds the same when it is pro­nounced in Ger­man. She has a well-thumbed copy of the un­pub­lished script, knows all her lines and has brought cos­tumes that in­clude a pe­riod jacket that fits Thomas per­fectly. Who she is, is left up to the au­di­ence to dis­cuss on the way home from the the­atre.

Au­di­ence mem­bers will also leave ask­ing, who is Al­li­son Bren­nan? This new­comer to the Winnipeg stage se­duced Thurs­day’s open­ing-night au­di­ence as ef­fort­lessly as she did Thomas. Her char­ac­ter’s un­pre­dictabil­ity made it im­pos­si­ble to pry your eyes off her and she re­warded pa­trons with a juicy comic per­for­mance. She also can sell sub­tle, as Vanda slyly takes over the au­di­tion as di­rec­tor, dra­maturge and even light­ing de­signer.

Matthew Edi­son, as Thomas, is at a dis­ad­van­tage as Vanda has all the best lines, es­pe­cially about the­atre, and Bren­nan spends most of her time parad­ing around in her un­der­wear. Edi­son is con­vinc­ing as the con­de­scend­ing play­wright/di­rec­tor who soon loses his con­fi­dent artis­tic pose as he suc­cumbs to the dark­ness within him. A high­light of his per­for­mance takes place on the di­van — which looks like Freud’s pa­tient couch — as his face reg­is­ters Vanda’s in­sider knowl­edge of his bland fi­ancée and their bland life to­gether.

Venus in Fur of­fers a stim­u­lat­ing evening of voyeurism that should leave au­di­ences to ru­mi­nate on the fine line be­tween pas­sion and per­ver­sity, plea­sure and pain, dom­i­na­tion and sub­ju­ga­tion.

MELISSA TAIT / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Al­li­son Bren­nan as Vanda and Matthew Edi­son as Thomas in RMTC’s Venus in Fur.

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