How about a feisty fantasia of a play that lasts just 90 minutes, is filled with fierce fun, and moves rapidly as it offers ideas that would be called shocking by some, and right-on by others?
Now at the Burbage Theater, “Venus in Fur” is a play filled with seduction and laughter, domination and submission. It’s hardly for everyone, but this speedy, intelligent production is well worth a trip to Pawtucket.
Taken from a 19th century work that coined the term “masochism,” “Venus in Fur” begins reasonably. A theater director is exhausted after a day in which he has auditioned many an actress for his new play. He found none, and is angry.
“Why can’t these women act!” is his position.
In scampers one last hopeful. She’s late, seemingly goofy, but fully able to demand a look by the director. He hates the idea, but gives in.
It’s not long before she’s down to her, shall we say, a costume consisting of a tiny black top followed with a really tiny bottom and, of course, black stockings and high heels.
“I’m the girl you want,” it all declaims.
Then, he’s still not sure. But the more she goes on developing the lines of the play, the lines of her abilities, the more he falls in. He begins to tell his own tale. An aunt who whipped him, and made him hope for more. Whether that’s in the play’s script or not isn’t quite clear. But the range, the threat, the needs of these two is increasingly sure.
"Venus in Fur” shows us the drive of many a woman, representing many others, to overcome the dominance of males. Slowly, erratically, but clearly, she’s winning, and he’s kneeling.
All of this is given a quicksilver drive under direction by Kate Kataja. Playwright David Ives seems to have been ahead of the times when he wrote “Venus in Fur” back in the 2000s.
The play is saying that women were – make that are – moving upward, not willing to follow the old paths. And both performers do yeomen and yeowomen work.
Burbage’s, artistic leader, Jeff Church moves onstage, and is clearly aware of the wear and tear on a theatrical director.
“Oh my lord,” he puts out. “Will no one help me do this masterpiece so I can show my powers?"
He’s adept at making the idea of a male being no more powerful and insightful than a women unfold in a carefully put together performance.
As the woman, Valerie Westgate is nothing less than a whirlwind. At one moment she’s a hopeful actor.
"Oh heavens, give me a job, a part, please!" she begs. Then she shifts into a male-defeating woman, sure and driven.
Whether she’s wearing a lovely gown or that provocative, male-evocative black get-up, Westgate is both a women of the past and the future.
One more thing. If you’ve not been to the Burbage know that the entry to the theater is in the back of a large -- and at night, closed -- building. Drive around back, and you will find the theater and see a play that’s vibrant and strong. And right-on for our times, too.