I remember being urged by multiple friends to catch Venus in Fur at Theatre Row off-Broadway last season but for some reason, I never made the time and I regretted it more and more as more people came forward and told me I totally “should’ve seen it.” So, needless to say, I was ecstatic when Manhattan Theatre Club announced that it would be picking up the play for their next season. I purchased a mezzanine ticket through MTC’s “30 under 30” program and got excited because who doesn’t love Hugh Dancy, and even more so, who doesn’t love Nina Arianda after seeing her in last season’s Born Yesterday?
Venus in Fur is unbelievably hard to explain but Dancy plays a writer/director looking for his muse and lead for his stage adaptation of the book Venus in Fur (by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, who Sadomasochism was named for). The curtain rises and he’s on the phone with someone complaining about how all the actresses he’s seen are dumb and have trouble reading basic English. While lamenting, an actress bursts through the door toting numerous bags and yelling about her tumultuous trip to get to the audition.
Venus in Fur, the book and play, are about power over another person. As Dancy and Arianda dissect the script scene by scene, the dynamic changes almost concurrently. The play’s meant to be ambiguous and not have a clear cut meaning and it succeeds as you believe in one moment Arianda might be a complete psycho about to kill Darcy, and then it does a bate and switch.
At 100 minutes, Venus in Fur keeps the audience (well, okay, I can only speak for myself) on its toes the entire time. If anything, go see this just to see Nina Arianda, who I can only assume will receive at least a Tony nomination if not the award itself for her performance which is brilliant, heart-breaking, comical, and powerful.