The playwright’s serio-comic depiction of an increasingly heated encounter between a theater director and an unknown actress in a rehearsal hall delves into aspects of power, both sexual and psychological, even as it touches on issues of personal identity, literary theory, feminism and mythology.
Don’t let all that scare you. “Venus in Fur” is a provocatively funny play that begins on a light note, as Thomas, an earnest writer-director, prepares to leave the shabby studio where he has been auditioning actresses for his stage adaptation of “Venus in Fur,” without success. Arriving unexpectedly out of a thunderstorm is Vanda, a brash nobody who claims she has an appointment to read for the leading role.
Although the cheerfully crass Vanda appears wildly unsuited for the part of a 19th-century aristocrat, she persuades a reluctant Thomas to hear her out. Script in hand, Vanda instantly sheds her brassy manners and magically assumes the cultivated tones and regal bearing of all the Barrymores rolled into one.
As the actress and the director talk about the text and begin to act it out, the audience learns the essentials of “Venus in Fur,” Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s scandalous 1870 novel about a European patrician who willingly becomes the slave of an imperious beauty.
Mark Alhadeff, who portrays Thomas, was an understudy in the role in the Broadway production, and he ably traces his character’s double spiral into delicious subjugation. The statuesque Ms. Putney, often clad in little more than a black bustier, a brief leather skirt and steep heels as Vanda, displays a smoldering rapport with Mr. Alhadeff’s shorter, rather scruffy Thomas.