The Goodman Theatre goes wild with ‘Venus in Fur’

Playwright David Ives is known for his ability to blend hilarious comedy with compelling existentialism, and farcical concepts that ring very true. One of his more recent plays, “Venus in Fur,” is now running at the Goodman, and it’s everything you would expect from a production there.

Ives’ plays may be more fun for the actors than the audience. In “Venus in Fur,” Amanda Drinkall plays Vanda, a struggling New York City actress who arrives late to an audition. Her desired role: the female lead in Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s infamous classic novel “Venus in Furs” (I’m not repeating myself here – note the extra ‘s’). Thomas, the writer and director of the adaptation, (played by Rufus Collins) happens upon her while staying late after auditions. Vanda seems at times coquettish and ditzy, and initially Thomas dismisses her as a nobody. Upon actually nudging him into a reading, though, Vanda transforms completely into some kind of Victorian goddess, and Thomas becomes decidedly wrapped in her performance.

If you know anything about the original “Venus in Furs,” which I certainly didn’t, you might see where this is going. Written 1870 in Germany, Sacher-Masoch’s novel introduced the idea of female dominance and sadomasochism to the well-read housewives of 19th century Europe. In fact, the word “masochism” is derived from his last name.

Little by little, Thomas and Vanda become entranced by one another, and seem to follow the basic arc of the novel’s plot in the 90 minutes that we see them on stage. Drinkall’s shifts in and out of two characters is done with captivating sparkle, and not a word of Thomas and Vanda’s exchanges seem trite or unneeded. The dialogue is fast-paced and cutting, with plenty of clever lines and unexpected twists. Drinkall and Collins comprise the only cast members in “Venus and Fur,” and it allows the talent of both actors to radiate, and Drinkall especially should be one to watch in future productions.

“Venus in Fur” run at the Goodman Theatre through April 13.