• Theater Review: Can S&M and feminism coexist?
    By Jim Lowe
     | March 16,2014
    Photo by Lindsay Raymondjack

    Vanda (Deanna McGovern) and Thomas (Jordan Gullikson) share a moment in Vermont Stage’s “Venus in Fur.”

    “Venus in Fur” is a most unusual romantic comedy, one that explores feminism, 19th century German literature, Greek mythology — and S&M.

    Vermont Stage opened a delicious and hilarious production of David Ives’ 2011 Broadway hit last week at Burlington’s FlynnSpace, one that defies virtually every politically correct precept while remaining decidedly a feminist black comedy.

    Thomas, a playwright, is attempting to cast his new play and is totally exasperated. He has spent the day auditioning young actresses for the part of the regal Vanda in his adaptation of Leopold Ritter von Sacher-Masoch’s 1870 German novel “Venus im Pelz (Venus in Furs).”

    As Thomas, on his cellphone to his fiancée, is about to call it a day, in barges a ditsy actress — swearing, whining and making excuses for herself. Thomas attempts to eject her, but she insists on reading for the part she claims she’s perfect for.

    Vanda, as the actress calls herself, turns out to be right. Thomas is drawn in, so much so that he and Vanda begin living the play — based on the book for which sexual masochism is named.

    And it’s hilarious as each character loses control to the other in this sexual (though there is no sex) cat and mouse game.

    At Friday’s performance, the Vermont Stage production, directed by Artistic Director Cristina Alicea, was taut, tense, unexpected and deliciously funny.

    Jordan Gullikson was most sympathetic, though he sounded a bit pedantic in the beginning, as Thomas, who thinks he’s in control. Deanna McGovern was his perfect foil as Vanda, who goes from flighty actress to sophisticated dominatrix.

    One of the most delicious moments Friday was when McGovern’s Vanda the actress suddenly transformed herself into Vanda the German aristocrat. It was an oddly touching moment — and truly beautiful.

    Gullikson and McGovern interacted intimately and beautifully as their characters fought for domination. It was not only a lot of fun, and touching at moments, it brought new light into the battle of the sexes.

    Blair Mielnik’s minimalist set, John Forbes’ effective but unobtrusive lighting, Catherine Vigne’s illustrative costumes and Martha Goode’s sound design all contributed to this polished production.

    Vermont Stage’s “Venus Fur” managed to be simultaneously challenging, unexpected and delightfully entertaining.

    Vermont Stage

    Vermont Stage Company presents David Ives’ “Venus in Fur” March 12-30 at the Flynn Center’s FlynnSpace, 153 Main St. in Burlington. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $37.50-$32, $33.75-$28.80 for students; call 863-5966, or go online to www.flynntix.org. For information, call 862-1497, or visit www.vtstage.org.

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