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Stageworks’ ‘Venus’ a production for alternative appetites


Published:   |   Updated: November 11, 2013 at 07:45 AM

“What has fur, four legs and a leather collar?” That is how Erik Piepenburg of The New York Times once described the sexy, funny, remorseless play “Venus in Fur.”

Tampa audiences with a taste for sadomasochism as well as intellectual puzzles can indulge both those appetites in the Stageworks production running through Nov. 24.

David Ives’ one-act play is centered on the themes of SEX and POWER.

A vamp named Vanda is the lead protagonist in an 1870 story written by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, a nobleman who became a sex slave to an imperious beauty and who lent his name to those scandalous preoccupations.

Thomas (Brendan Ragan), a young playwright and director, has long been captivated by Sacher-Masoch’s tale and has based his play on that story. But he is frustrated in his search for an actress capable of portraying the lovely, aristocratic dominatrix.

All the actresses he has auditioned are like “6-year-olds on helium,” he wails.

Enter a crude, trash-talking actress (Georgina Mckee) who also is named Vanda.

That’s not a coincidence for reasons that come clear later in this 90-minute production.

Thomas tries to get rid of this hopeful but she begs him to let her try out.

As she reads through Vanda’s lines, it becomes clear she has more of a grasp of the play than Thomas has. While he thinks Sacher-Masoch’s tale is important literature, she knows better.

“Basically, it’s S-and-M porn,” she declares. “He’s got this ‘beat me, love me’ kink.”

She strips down to her black corset as director and actress assume the roles of Sacher-Masoch’s characters.

Then she seduces him with whippings and humiliation.

Thomas, the man once in charge of the audition, now takes direction from the actress.

“I seek pain and you seek pleasure,” says the character played by Thomas. “Treat me with divine cruelty,” he begs.

What becomes clear is that the borders separating actor and character are basically nonexistent.

The same goes for writers and their fictions, a theme often addressed by Ives, whose one-act plays, including “All in the Timing,” have been Broadway hits and have garnered him many awards.

As Thomas’s character says, “Don’t we go to plays for the passions we are not getting in life?”

Under Anna Brennen’s expert direction, the action moves quickly without ever losing momentum. Brendan Ragan gives Thomas a wide range of feeling. You can follow him evolving from the playwright-in-charge to his happily subjugated character.

Georgina McKee’s strong, take-charge Vanda is more of a puzzle, mainly because Ives’ script makes her more of a symbol than a real person.

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