‘Venus in Fur’ inspires gender dialogue

The Salt Lake Acting Company opened its new season with Venus in Furs on On Sept. 25. — The Photo courtesy David Daniels
The Salt Lake Acting Company opened its new season with Venus in Furs on On Sept. 25. — The Photo courtesy David Daniels

Phrases such as ‘the battle of the sexes’ and ‘all is fair in love and war’ and — who could forget — Pat Benatar’s song “Love is a Battlefield” all underline hidden power struggles between men and women and their relationships. David Ives’ play “Venus in Fur” forces its audience to question if such phrases are accurate portrayals of love.
On Sept. 25, the Salt Lake Acting Company opened its season with the fast-paced play, based on Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s novella “Venus in Furs.” This play adaptation of Masoch’s story uses power struggles as a starting point and then delves deeper into the gray matter of romantic relationships.
“[The play] kind of fits into its own genre. It is certainly contemporary but maintains Greek themes as well,” play director Tracy Callahan said. “[It] is witty, fresh, funny, sexy, dangerous, serious and mysterious. All in all, a good ride.”
The plays opens with Vanda Jordan, who is late to audition for Thomas Novachek’s play depicting two lovers trapped in a sadomasochistic relationship. Soaked from the rain, Vanda enters the scene yelling profanities. She appears to be just another silly, empty-headed actress. However, as she begins to read the script, the first impressions of the character fall away. She transforms into Wanda von Dunajew — a sexy, powerful and sometimes frightening woman capable of crushing even the most confident man.
“It’s hard to talk about Vanda without giving too much away. Suffice it to say, she is more than she seems,” said Marza Warsinske, who plays Vanda Jordan. “I wouldn’t say I am particularly similar to Vanda, but I certainly identify with much of what she has to say about gender and art. [She] is among the most difficult characters I’ve ever worked on, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the challenge.”
Thomas and Vanda continue reading the script, occasionally interrupting to question, criticize and comment on the other’s performance. Thomas appears to be just another pedantic, intellectual director. However, as he is drawn into Vanda’s play-within-a-play, he transforms into Severin von Kusiemski — an intense, trusting and occasionally frantic man ready to be dominated.
“Thomas Novachek is a chauvinist,” said Patrick Kintz, who plays Thomas. “[He is] somewhat self-involved and self-important, which I think stems from his desperation for relevancy. [These are] all qualities I strive to shed in my own personality. I think the most difficult thing is being able to [convincingly portray] a jerk, instead of being ‘Patrick-the-nice-guy-putting-on-a-jerk-face.’ ”
Through David Ives’s witty writing, Kintz and Warsinske bring raw and complex characters to life. Warsinske’s portrayal of Vanda is both enigmatic and comedic, and Kintz’s Thomas battles to maintain a controlled surface while becoming quietly hot and bothered underneath.
The play-within-a-play structure, along with the shifts in character and the delicate balance between dark themes and light humor, leaves the audience wondering who is who and what is real.
“Hopefully [the play] keeps you on the edge of your seat, wondering what’s going to happen next,” Kintz said. “Overall, I hope audiences will love it and at least be affected by it enough to start an open dialogue with people. [This discussion] may not result in any answers at all, but [it] keep[s] everyone thinking.”
“Venus in Fur” runs through Oct. 27 at the Chapel Theatre.