Venus in Fur – BDSM and the religious behavioural complex. (Theatre Review)

Venus in Fur

107 Projects, Redfern

Find out more about this production and future versions here.

Like so many fascinated with BDSM, David Ives was a good Catholic boy well versed and schooled in the excessive preoccupation with one’s inner life. On the surface it appears self-evident that those used to punishment and self-torture as an antidote to their original-sin-stain might want to take that final step, and place the whip in another’s hands and include an orgasm for authenticity. BDSM is fundamentally a circular reach for authenticity: I project onto other a legitimisation whose behavior toward me proves I am real. I am alive, sexy, adventurous, sensual, felling with intensity because I follow the rules that made me thus. David Ives is right to turn this circle back onto theatre, for where else do we see the consummate evocation of the mythologising of man other than on the stage? He is also correct to evoke a mythologized self as the ‘female’ and the ‘actress’ against the self-conscious ‘man’ who is also a ‘director/playwright.’ For David Ives, the human creature is fated to experience the world primarily in dystonic timbres: weariness, boredom, meaninglessness, tastelessness, and rebellious anger towards everything that is the case, much as he presents Thomas Novachek (Zach Selmes) at the start of the play. This mirrors Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s man who turns to Severin, and the pre-submissive life of Severin himself. David Ives extends the line into the other direction by infusing The Playwright with identical malaise.

Just as Vanda (Caitlin Williams) is a character in a play, equally she is the impossible feminine archetype evoked by female dominance. Never anything other than a male fantasy, her only purpose is to legitimize the male who creates her by his submission to her. BDSM is always about the submissive, regardless of gender orientation, as it is the willing submission that creates the dominant. Otherwise BDSM is nothing other than a tedious crime. Character is created by the playwright, but how much of this character does the actress in bringing her to real life, claim for herself? In this we see an inevitable ‘power struggle’ between director/actor, writer/muse, male/female, submissive/Dominant, man/god and so forth. However, when seen through the lens of theatre (and director Emma Burns cleverly sets her production in the round) we are led to think of the Sado Masochistic relationship in terms of the audience and the players, and we see theatre, and all that which ‘dominates’ as the inspiration that calls forth a better version of ourselves.

Tied irrevocably to the religious behavioral complex, the anticipation shapes up to be as follows: one looks to one who is perfect, essential disdain confirms a superiority from whom one receives (both incredulous and credulous) the message that one could be the same one day. This is an operation as old as time itself and in the past has set armies of practicing humans in motion over millennia. Without the concept of running toward the goal there can be no great life, no expansion of nations no wanting to be the way someone greater once was. It is summed up in the “being-ready-later” of a religious and post religious life. What becomes so interesting in Venus in Fur, is David Ives’ reflection that theatre follows this same trajectory.

This production of Venus in Fur performed at 107 Projects is a superb incarnation of the complicated and multi-faceted play. Director Emma Burns shows great command of the text in arousing a subtle and yet sensuous evocation of this interesting and beautiful play. Set in the small theatre at 107 Projects, the minimal design enhances rather than detracts from the wordy play. Never tedious nor weighty, cerebral action is intensified through two terrific performances from Caitlin Williams and Zach Selmes. Caitlin Williams does a great deal with the exciting and thrilling character Vanda, playing her with a provocative intellectualism that keeps the audience in its thrall. However, a stand out performance from Zach Selmes sets the tone as his vacillating Thomas Novachek swings through his process with such potency, one often gets the sense he is alone in a room wrestling with his muse. I’ve seen many productions of this interesting play, but this is the first that inspired so many alternate readings and interpretations from the prosaic and well-worn. It provided a joyous and much welcome departure from the usual modernized feminist interpretation that I’ve always sensed as tacked on in a deference to politesse. Emma Burns has an intuitive understanding of what is possible inside Venus in Fur, beyond titillation and politics, and she and Zach Selmes call this forth with exciting theatrical courage.

At the time of completing this review, this production of Venus in Fur has completed its run at 107 Projects. However, a production this good is likely to experience a resurgence. If it passes your way, be sure to catch it.

 

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