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'Venus in Fur' is a dominating theatrical experience

Red Dirt Theater Company offers David Ives’ Tony-award winning play “Venus in Fur,” a meditation on the question of who is really in charge: the one who dominates, or the one who submits?

Ives has designed a play for two in which the actors layer two characters each, transitioning from actress to role and director to role, and then role to role. These moves are both distinct and subtle, so the play requires real skill in the actors and direction, or it can easily descend from an erotic psycho-drama into soft-core porn.

[NOTE: the material is erotic, but not physically explicit. In fact, the physical contact is minimal, and all the more suggestive for its restraint. However, this is definitely not a show for children.]

Red Dirt’s production avoids the traps well. Directed by Joel Abel with support from Mitchell McFarland, the unit set and basic lighting is deceptively simple. The ambience of storm, with lightning and thunder and power fluctuations, is critical to the story arc. The technical skill McFarland applies makes these environmental elements almost seamless and invisible.

Todd Clark and Ally Greer play the two agonists in the play—it’s hard to define which is the pro- and which the ant-agonist. Clark plays Thomas, a writer/director/producer who is looking for the perfect actress for a part in his new play. Just as he’s about to go home after an exhausting and unfulfilling day, in walks Vanda, played by Ally Greer. She pushes for an audition, and soon begins to demonstrate her fitness for the part.

Clark, a local stage veteran, demonstrates a tight and delicate control of his considerable range in the part of Thomas. Frustration, irritability, nascent hopefulness, confusion—and many other levels of human response to an ‘other’—run across his face and body in the course of the show. This role demands an actor who can manage his posture and face without appearing to do so; the shifts and changes cannot suggest a man out of control, nor can the emotional movement be drastic, but it must be visible. This is a very sharp edge to tread—we must see the wound but not be overly concerned about gore. Clark delivered beautifully in this demanding role.

Greer has a much larger canvas in the part of Vanda. She ranged from ditz to diva and from silly babe to smart bitch with a finesse that was riveting. Playing the actress, who seems to have the same first name as the character for which she is auditioning, Greer must shift back and forth with a suddenness that betrays the confidence of the actress while she is playing the confidence of the character—and make the difference between the two clear. She handled a deceptively simply arc with care and deftness, giving Vanda—and ‘Vanda’—clear differences even as the two characters began to merge and metamorphose into something entirely different.

The show is just over 90 minutes and is played without intermission, the absence of which is almost unnoticeable. The arc of the character interaction and the emotional draw keep the audience focused on the action—a real feat for a two-character play.

“Venus in Fur” runs through May 9 at 8:00 pm Friday and Saturday at Actors Warehouse Studio, 30 NE 52nd Street, Oklahoma City. Email to reserve tickets or call 405-406-4833.