Review-Venus in Fur (Re-run)-Sweet and Sour Productions


By: Joyce Wong


Last night Sweet and Sour Productions presented their second run of Venus in Fur by David Ives. As promised by the sultry jazz and ambient lighting before the show began, Candice Moore’s production was an enticing performance of gender power play. Having missed its premiere last year, I can’t comment on the things that the cast and crew have done differently the second time around, so I will review this second showing on its own merits. 


The play tells the story of Thomas Novachek (Henry Coombs), a frustrated playwright/director unable to find an actress for his adaptation of Masoch’s Venus in Furs, and Vanda Jordan, (Muriel Hofmann), a mysterious actress who stumbles in last minute for an audition. What begins as a reluctant reading on Thomas’s part eventually turns into an audition more than what either character had bargained for. Roles are reversed and reality collides with fiction as Thomas and Vanda read and argue about the meaning of Masoch’s work. 


Described by Muriel Hofmann as “intellectually kinky”, the play is not so much about S&M as it is about power, manipulation, and feminism. Its 90 minutes of non-stop action, fiery dialogue, and witty humor recalls classics like Strindberg’s Miss Julie or Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler (who Vanda indeed claims to have played excellently). It’s interesting to see how against the backdrop of contemporary theatre business, the play explores many issues from “1870-whatever” that are still relevant today. 


The highlight of the play is without question the captivating performances by Muriel Hofmann and Henry Coombs. When Vanda dons a Continental accent to read for the role of Wanda von Dunajew, I was as shocked as Thomas that this actress from out of nowhere could completely transform into her role and that Hofmann can slip in and out of two characters so seamlessly. Her performance was seductive and electrifying. Likewise, Henry Coombs had strong stage presence and surprised with a hilarious and compelling gender-switching moment when he starts reading as Wanda instead of Severin. Though the script is dialogue heavy and fast-paced, each actor's delivery is flawless. It was amazing watching Hofmann and Coombs feed off each other in a tug-of-war in words and dominance. 


The staging was very well-done, with full utilization of space. The action is sometimes brought up close to the audience, making everything all the more tense and dramatic. Blocking was well thought out and the actors’ positions and levels of height reflected shifting power dynamics effectively. The lighting design by Andrew Ritchie is also worth mentioning. I enjoyed the simple alternation between different tones to signify the slipping in and out of different story worlds. As the play progresses and the characters blend with the ones they are reading, the lighting alternation also becomes blurred. The best use of light to full impact is at the end; you would have to see it to experience its climatic effect. The use of props, especially the S&M gear, was also good, just enough to drive the drama but not so hardcore that it’s discomforting to audience members. 


From the play’s meticulous design to the actors’ mesmerizing performances, it is very clear why Venus in Fur has received a second run. It is not a performance to be missed and I’d definitely return if it ever runs a third time. 


Venus in Fur is playing at the Fringe Club through September 6th. Limited tickets are available. For more information, click here.

Rate This Show: 1 2 3 4 5 Audience Rating: 3.8


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