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Theater review: Terrific Actors Make ‘Venus in Fur’ an Electric Thrill

Venus in Fur 1“…You don’t have to tell me about sadomasochism,” the young actress going after a rather juicy part tells the director she’s auditioning for in Venus in Fur, now making its highly-charged Tennessee debut courtesy of the Music City Theatre Company. “I’m in the theater.”

The actress uttering that funny and truthful observation is Vanda (Carrie Jennings), a determined young woman who comes better prepared for her audition with director Thomas (Bradley Moore) than she initially reveals. Thomas has adapted Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s 1870 erotic novella ”Venus in Furs” into a new play; at the outset he laments there are no modern women right for the lead role, but Vanda’s last-minute arrival upsets that smug assessment.

Not that Thomas is really so sure of himself in this process. “Sometimes today I felt as if I didn’t know the first thing about them (his play’s characters) – or this play,” he tells Vanda. “Suddenly, an actor turns to you and says, ‘What should I do, who am I right here?’ and you have no idea. You can’t remember who you are, much less what they’re supposed to be.”

Things get more confusing for Thomas (and the audience) as Vanda’s feels-so-real audition blurs the lines between reality and fantasy. Sex, love, power, domination – what do these mean not only to the two characters but to us?

David Ives – probably best known for All in the Timing – loves to find truth through mounting absurdity, and Venus in Fur’s quick-witted 90 minutes build to a delightfully far-fetched, though dramatically engaging, conclusion. This nicely-crafted two-hander wouldn’t work without two strong actors, however. Happily, Jennings and Moore are terrific.

Both have theater degrees from respected collegiate programs and impressive credits, but of course such things are not a guarantee of performance quality. What is known after watching this talented, well-matched pair is that Jennings and Moore know how to do more than the basic requirement of taking a preset storyline and making it seem spontaneous – they fill our plate with the inner and outer workings of their characters and get us to laugh, nod and otherwise react to the interesting arc they’re creating so powerfully in front of us.

Venus in Fur 2The Vibe nightclub provides a good setting for Venus in Fur. Dave McGinnis (who assisted Moore in the direction of this piece) has designed lighting that vividly marks the multitude of moments when we’re not sure where reality leaves off and fantasy begins. The club’s stage holds the set pieces necessary to convey the story’s audition space; there’s enough room for the actors to move about easily, but it’s still intimate enough to make the growing cat-and-mouse between Vanda and Thomas crackle with maximum electricity.

There are only two shows left in Music City Theatre Company’s short run of this wickedly good play. If you seek the rewards of edgy contemporary theater in Nashville please don’t miss Venus in Fur.

Venus in Fur concludes with 7:30 p.m. performances today and Friday at the Vibe (1713 Church St.). Tickets are $12 at the door. Due to language and thematic elements Venus in Fur is recommended for ages 16 and up. For more information, please visit Music City Theatre Company on Facebook or contact Moore at bradleymoore81@aol.com.

*Photos of Carrie Jennings as Vanda and Bradley Moore as Thomas by William Boggess courtesy Music City Theatre Company.

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About Evans Donnell

Evans Donnell is the chief theater, film and opera critic as well as co-founder of ArtsNash. He wrote reviews and features about theater, opera and classical music for The Tennessean from 2002 to 2011. He was the theater, film and opera critic for ArtNowNashville.com from 2011 to 2012. Donnell has also contributed to The Sondheim Review, Back Stage, The City Paper (Nashville), the Nashville Banner, The (Bowling Green, Ky.) Daily News and several other publications since beginning his professional journalism career in 1985 with The Lebanon (Tenn.) Democrat. He was selected as a fellow for the 2004 National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, and for National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) arts journalism institutes for theater and musical theater at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism in 2006 and classical music and opera at the Columbia University School of Journalism in 2009. He has also been an actor (member of Actors Equity Association and SAG-AFTRA), founding and running AthensSouth Theatre from 1996 to 2001 and appearing in Milos Forman's "The People vs Larry Flynt" among other credits. Donnell is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (www.americantheatrecritics.org).