Review: Venus in Fur (Canadian Stage)

Image of Rick Miller and Carly Street in Venus in Fur

Venus in Fur returns to the Toronto Stage for its final remount at Canadian Stage

When I heard that Canadian Stage was doing another remount of David Ives’s Venus In Fur, I was giddy. The last two times this production was in Toronto, something had always managed to get in the way of me seeing it. When I read that this was the final remount and the last time I’d get to see Rick Miller and Carly Street reprise these roles under the direction of Jennifer Tarver, I knew I had to see it.

In this play-within-a-play, Thomas, played by Rick Miller, has adapted the 1870 novella Venus in Furs by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (a bit of trivia: the term ‘masochist’ is derived from his name) for the stage. Vanda, played by Carly Street, has come to audition for one of the lead roles. As Thomas reads lines with Vanda the piece does far more than explore the translation of a classic work, it explores timeless power struggles, feelings of desire, and, of course, the feelings of guilt and regret that go along with them.

I was expecting a sexy play with layers, darkness and complexity, and it is all those things. What I wasn’t expecting was guffaws. The piece is funny. I mean, really funny. People-turning-around-and-looking-at-me-because-of-my-great-big-laugh kind of funny.

It felt like the humour prepared me for the discomfort that came later. I was more at ease. It made the more challenging bits easier to take. A spoonful of sugar and all that. I’m not saying they felt like cheap laughs inserted to console. They felt like well-placed, useful pieces that moved the story forward, which happened to be funny.

Oh, and sexy, oh my. There is this one scene with some boots where… Well, you’ll just have to check it out for yourself, but trust me, this is a show with some delicious sexual tension.

The energy between the actors is electric. I have loved Rick Miller’s work for a long time, although I mostly know him for his one-man shows. Part of why I was so determined to see this show was because I wanted to see what he was like playing off another person. He’s great. Completely different, as he would have to be, and fantastic.

I haven’t had nearly as much exposure to Carly Street, but now I want a lot more. She’s a powerhouse. Street completely dominated the stage (no pun intended). I was entranced by her. She slipped between her two characters effortlessly, and had complete command of my attention. All I can say is I hope I get to see her in something again very soon.

All the pieces of the production worked so well together. The direction by Jennifer Tarver felt dynamic – like it really fit with the script and the personalities on stage. The set and costumes by Debra Hanson struck a nice balance by being both minimalistic and literal at the same time, and Michael Walton’s lights were great. They faded into the background when they needed to, and provided a bit of a *nudge nudge wink wink* kind of feel when appropriate – I could almost hear Thomas’s brain going ‘wait, how’d she do that’ at some points.

In fact, the only moment that really fell flat for me was the very final one, but I’m not going to tell you any details about it, or why it fell flat for me, because, really, providing a spoiler as big as revealing the last moments of a play in a review feels just a little bit too sadistic (pun intended this time).

This is a piece that is well worth your time and money, and tickets are getting scooped up quickly, so I’d scurry over the website and book now if I were you. This can be a crazy time of year, I highly recommend you treat yourself to a little break from all of that craziness and go see this during its short final run.

 

Details

  • Venus in Fur is playing until December 28, 2014 at Canadian Stage’s Berkeley Street Theatre (26 Berkeley Street)
  • The show runs on a special holiday schedule with matinees at 1pm and evening shows at 7pm. There are no performances on Monday December 22, Thursday December 25, or Friday December 26. For details on other showtimes please see the website
  • Ticket prices range from $30 to $59, and are available online, by phone at 416.368.3110 or in person at the box office

Photo of Rick Miller and Carly Street by David Hou