Thursday, February 18, 2010

The FTT Theatre (What?) Review: Venus In Fur

Today, I'm going to go way off topic to post a review of a play that I took the Shooter Wife to last week, just because (a) it stuck with me, and (b) what, you think it's easy to fill the bloghole in mid-February? Ah, but there is a mighty bring-back, my 90%+ male friends... and that is the fetching creature adorning this post, aka Nina Arianda. But more about her later.

"Venus In Fur" is a two-person play, with the plot concerning the casting decision of a worn-out playwright and first-time director who is doing an adaptation of "Venus in Furs." The plural is a fairly infamous 19th century work and Velvet Underground sound that let popular culture become aware of sado-masochism. So you know the play is going to be kinky. But what you don't know is that it's also going to be really, really smart.

At the end of his day, after having seen way too many of the wrong actress, the writer is set upon by a seeming disaster of an actress, a blonde who enters, late and unscheduled, like a bus accident from the rain. Over the next 90 minutes, she entices, infuriates and intrigues the writer, who is convinced to read with her for the part, and becoming increasingly aware that there may be a lot more to her than what she seems.

VIF is not perfect; the ending is a bit overwrought and overly long, and at 100 minutes or more without an intermission, it does start to wear out its welcome. Wes Bentley's performance as the writer is challenging, in that he's clearly a skilled actor who is playing a character who is not, and thus difficult to evaluate. But he's not why you go; you go for Arianda, and that's independent of the fact that she looks mighty fine in her underwear and thigh high boots. (What, you thought you were going to go to a play about the psychological underpinnings of S&M without getting a little eye candy?)

Her part and performance is the kind of thing that makes you feel, oddly, like a baseball fan watching a teenaged phenom crush minor league pitching. She's simply a lot better than everything that's around her, and because of that, you really give her your full attention. It will even make you look her up to find out online to find out what else she's been in, and according to the Internets, it's not much. She's 25, a recent graduate of NYU, and in her first major role. It won't be her last.

But again, it's not just her, really; the play is also catnip to writers, in that it speaks to a central reality of our existence. When we act alone, without editing or collaboration, we have the illusion of complete control over things... but that is never really the case, since we're always writing for the audience, or at least, our perception of what the audience is.

If we ignore that and just write for itself, the chances of writing something that won't work for anyone else go through the roof... but when we compromise further and allow a second writer or editor to change our work, we potentially increase its appeal and limit the potential for bad choices, but we also take away its singularity, its uniqueness. We give up power to someone else. And all writers are or were, on some level, people who need that power, need that control, need to know what happens.

In VIF, you really don't know what's going to happen, and you feel it all starting to slip away from the writer. For good or ill. And that's what makes the sexual underpinning of the thing the best kind of theater -- because it sticks with you for a while, and makes you avoid pat answers and easy choices.

The signature moment of the play for me is this. After a brisk opening pace with David Mamet-style rapid fire dialogue, the writer is asking the actress about where she has gotten various bits of costuming, which is constantly being pulled out of an oversized bag. After cheerfully giving the details for the various finds, he asks about the studded dog collar around her neck. For the first time in the play, there's silence -- lots of it. And then she says, "I got that from when I was a prostitute."

And after one of the most charged silences you can imagine -- will she talk more about that, is she still one, what caused her to do it, all whipping through the mind -- she says, "Joking."

It's a laugh line, of course, and a really good one. But you don't know if the first part was the lie, or the second, and Arianda isn't giving anything away.

Anyway, here's the show's preview video. Joe Bob says check it out, either now if you are in NYC, or later, when this thing hits Broadway and indie film land. It's selling out every night, and it should.

1 comment:

CMJDad said...

Um, er....eh, I've got nothing.

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