What starts out as an audition turns into a wily, sensual battle of the sexes in “Venus in Fur,” the West End Players’105th season opener.
This sizzling two-character comedy-drama by provocateur David Ives benefits from the force of nature that is actress Paula Stoff Dean and superb production values.
On a sparse stage, appointed like a theater’s rehearsal area, writer-director Thomas (Chris Jones) is complaining to his significant other that he hasn’t found the right actress to fit his female lead. Enter Vanda, rushing in, cursing and bemoaning her terrible, horrible no-good day.
After considerable wheedling, Thomas relents and allows Vanda to try out, and she is stunningly prepared, with full grasp of the entire play, and a bag full of costumes and props. It’s obvious he has met his Vanda.
Over the course of several hours, they immerse themselves in the characters of this 19th century adaptation work featuring the namesake for masochism. OK – they start their engines.
The power starts out with the somewhat pompous director, then shifts dramatically to Vanda. She’s really in charge here. And what happens is a display of domination and desire.
Director Steve Callahan smoothly moves the pair around, like circling animals ready to pounce.
The play throws a few curveballs at us, and it’s not all that easy to digest. But Dean is mesmerizing as the mercurial Vanda, shifting moods and emotions effortlessly. Jones is a good foil for her, but his rushed delivery sometimes hampers hearing his dialogue, especially if you are seated near a blower duct.
The show is 90 minutes and performed without an intermission.
Chuck Lavazzi’s sound and Nathan Schroeder’s lighting adds to the stormy night scenario. Tracey Newcomb-Margrave’s costuming of Vanda are strong examples of contrasting time periods and meanings.
At a glance
- What: “Venus in Fur”
- When: Sunday
- Who: West End Players
- Where: Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union Avenue, St. Louis
- Tickets: www.westendplayers.org; 314-667-5686