Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Despite Strong Performances, Goodman's 'Venus in Fur' Fails to Scintillate in Its Attempt to Stimulate -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Venus in Fur
a recent play by David Ives
directed by Joanie Schultz
Goodman Theatre, Chicago
Thru April 13

Venus in Fur didn't do much for me.

I realize that is about the tritest possible way to critique a theatrical production, in this case a play by an acclaimed writer that was well received Off- and on Broadway and is being staged in Chicago by the often terrific Goodman Theatre.

But it is because I have such esteem for the Goodman, respect for playwright David Ives and admiration for the only two cast members--who are on stage for the entire 100 minutes--that I won't try to detail what it is I didn't love about Venus in Fur.

Perhaps I just didn't "get" Ives' multi-layered messaging in creating a play that largely involves the reading of a script for an imagined play called Venus in Fur, based on 1870 novel Venus in Furs by Austrian author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, which inspired the term Masochism (derived from the author's last name).

Maybe I just tended to drift, especially during the accent-inflected script reading between the play-within-the-play's writer/director Thomas (played by Rufus Collins) and the auditioning actress conveniently named Vanda (Amanda Drinkall).

I appreciate that Ives is a very witty writer so it's quite possible I failed to appreciate his insightful commentary about sexual politics, and just plain old sexism, in theater and in general.

Likely demonstrating the latter, I applauded the lovely Drinkall's talent and effort as she spent most of the show in various stages of undress.

And though I can't say I ever cared enough about either character to try to deduce their truths and motivations, Collins seemed to be quite stellar in the role of Thomas, as written.

With the Goodman's typically impressive scenery, designed by Todd Rosenthal, I don't doubt Director Joanie Schultz interpreted the material well, and to be fair, I sensed that other patrons in the balcony on Sunday night enjoyed the show considerably more than I.

I admittedly don't know that I can intelligently delineate the difference between plays--and productions--I greatly enjoy and ones I simply endure, and I realize that some I may more acutely appreciate may merely be more accessible, not necessarily better.

So I will not say that the Venus in Fur is bad, nor will I suggest that it is not worth your while. 

But as simplistic as it may sound, it just didn't do much for me.

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