“Venus in Fur,” the first show in the new Fulton Studio Theatre, is an edgy stunner, just as Marc Robin, artistic director of the Fulton Theatre, and director of this show, promised.
Robin announced recently that the Ellen Arnold Groff Studio Theatre Series (named after the late benefactor and strong arts supporter) would be home to more challenging, smaller and lesser known plays.
The 4th Floor Studio Theatre has been turned into a real 99-seat theater, with a stage, lighting and a new sound system. It is a nifty site and will make an excellent home to the Groff Studio Theatre Series, which will include fully staged productions.
And this one, written by David Ives, is a doozy.
A two-person play that explores power between the sexes, the theater itself and a 19th century novel about S&M, “Venus in Fur” is a wild ride. Ninety minutes with no intermission, it will make you laugh, shock you and keep you guessing.
Two excellent actors take their juicy rolls and electrify them.
Logan James Hall isThomas, a playwright and director who has spent a long day auditioning women for his play, “Venus in Fur,” adapted from a once scandalous 1870 novel by Austrian Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch. He’s been auditioning all day long and as he tells his fiancé over the phone, nobody has come close to what he wants.
In a clash of thunder, an actress enters the stage. This is Vanda (Hanley Smith), an actress who’s come to audition. The drama of her entrance will continue throughout this amazing night.
She is goofy, talkative and quite physical as she pleads for an audition. Thomas hesitates because she seems kind of dumb and vulgar. But then she become the character, also named Vanda, and he realizes she in an incredible actress.
Vanda can drop the character and become goofy at the drop of the hat. A lot of the humor comes from Smith’s amazing ability to switch gears in a flash, going from this character back to this funky actress.
Although Vanda was not on the audition list, she’s memorized the whole play, which freaks Thomas out a little.
They begin doing the play, in which Severen makes an agreement with Vanda to become her slave. And Vanda goes to town - both the character and the actress.
With thunder and lightning literally adding to the drama, Thomas begins to wonder who this woman actually is.
And the relationship between Thomas and Vanda changes as he loses control to this amazing creature. It’s exhilarating to watch the story unfold.
Smith has the flashier role, but Hall’s work is just as important and just as good. First, the chemistry is essential to the success of the play and these two have tons of it.
And Thomas must stay on the roller coaster, adding his own twists and turns. Hall does a great job.
Smith is fearless, never failing to spark the stage.
And Robin has brought out the humor of the play without losing the intensity of it.
Kudos to all three, along with the design team: William Mohney’s effective set, Bill Simmons’ stunning lighting and spot on costumes by Brittany Leffler.
The new studio theater is good news for the Lancaster theater scene and this was the perfect way to start it off.
Yes, this would get an R rating, with language, partial nudity and a storyline that is way beyond mature. But the sold out audience who saw it with me on Thursday night seemed to appreciate watching a show meant for adults that leaves you thinking about just how complicated love, sex and power can be.
If You Go
‘Venus in Fur’
By David Ives
For mature audiences
Runs through March 8 at the Fulton’s 4th Floor Studio Theatre
12 N. Prince St.
Tickets: $35, general admission