Venus in Fur isn’t nearly as kinky as it pretends to be. But it is pretty damned funny. Credit playwright David Ives, who skewers literary pedants and gender dynamics in a single deft stroke, and who created the memorable Vanda Jordan – actress, dominatrix, goddess. In the San Diego Repertory’s current production of Venus in Fur, Caroline Kinsolving is an hysterical force of nature as leather-clad, dog collar-wearing Vanda, who’s more than a match for uptight, pretentious playwright Thomas Novachek (Jeffrey Meek). As Vanda, who is auditioning for the lead role in Novachek’s play that he swears is NOT about S&M, Kinsoving ping-pongs from earthy wisecracker to 19th-century m’lady and still finds time to swing from a pole like a pro. The latter earned her a burst of applause on opening night from the Rep audience, demonstrating better critical reception than Elizabeth Berkley got in “Showgirls.”
Kinsolving and Meek thrust and parry for an hour and a half on stage in the Rep’s compact, barely furnished Lyceum Space, play-acting and changing costumes (though Kinsolving is mostly in fetish-wear) and even swapping genders near the end. The closest they ever come to the aforementioned kinky is Meek’s zipping up a writhing Kinsolving’s thigh-high boots while she writhes on a fainting couch. (That’s the extent of any comparison between this play and Kinky Boots.) There are narrative suggestions throughout that Vanda Jordan may not be whom she first appears to be, and the otherworldly finale implies the downright mythological. Take these clues for what they are.
Co-directors Kim Rubinstein and the Rep’s Sam Woodhouse keep Venus in Fur from careening off track, though in Kinsolving and Meek they have a pair of actors who clearly have a feel for Ives’ play. Woodhouse told the opening night audience before curtain that Venus in Fur is the most produced play in America this year, and that’s not a big surprise. From the theaters’ standpoint it must be relatively inexpensive to produce, and for audiences it’s 90-something minutes of laughs naughty enough to inspire après-show romancing – or fantasizing as the case may be.
David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.