Let’s get one thing straight: this is a good production. Great at times.
If every Winni-play started with a thought-and-laughter choked script, whip-smart directing and on the ball(s) acting, this city would be a theatrical holy site. We’d be laughing, like opening night’s audience.
And the crowd was happy to submit to this middle-class-porn meets womyn’s studies thesis, as a lingerie-clad actress auditions for an adaptation of a 19th century sadomasochistic novella. Battles for control are layers deep: German nobles in the play-within-the-play draw up a dom contract; playwright and auditionee direct each other; woman and man bully, coax and seduce. It’s a fun weave of reversals, kept entertaining by Matthew Edison’s frustrated narcissistic writer and Allison Brennan’s uninhibited, “I’m usually more demure and shit,” free spirit. They’re both on their game, especially once Brennan settles from her whirlwind entrance into a one-two routine of refined tease and crude wisecrack.
So why am I grinding my teeth days after the show? Because little flaws stand out. For a play about sex, the body heat boils very few times. Comic builds and releases stand in for swells of sexual tension. And the script, like the male character, occasionally takes pains to point out how witty it is. Another layer of control, maybe?
And the ending! Dammit! The end plot twist (I’ll try not to give it away, but skip if you’re worried) ironically completes the very act Vanda rages against. Her character is diminished to a function centred on a man. She’s there to teach a lesson. Ouch. In a previously ambiguous battle (even the characters in the play praise ambiguity), David Ives comes down firmly on one side.
So tie up and gag the ending, And ignore the smaller quibbles. This mix of leather and lace – ideas and entertainment – is exactly what shows should aim for. The next strike just needs to be a couple inches higher.
Venus in Fur
By David Ives
Tom Hendry Theatre, RMTC
Through November 9
Directed by Christopher Brauer; with Allison Brennan and Matthew Edison; set and costume design by Gillian Gallow; lighting and media design by Hugh Conacher; sound design by Michael Wright; dialect coached by Shannon Vickers; stage managed by Leslie Sidley;; apprentice stage managed by Holly LaJambe.
Matthew TenBruggencate is a Winnipeg-based writer. He is owned by two cats. Follow him @tenbruggencate, where is he spreading nasty rumours about you.