2It'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 She has a well-thumbed copy of the unpublished script, knows all her lines and has brought costumes that include a period jacket that fits Thomas perfectly.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.