Titian, Venus With a Mirror, c. 1555
There's been a little buzz about our forthcoming production of Venus in Fur. People are asking just what kind of show it is. Is it basically porn? That question is actually raised in the play, when the actress auditioning for the role of Venus asks the director about his dramatic adaptation.
Vanda: This is based on something, right? Besides the Lou Reed song? "Venus in Furs"?
Thomas: This is based on an old German novel called Venus in Fur by Leopold Sacher-Masoch.
Vanda: I bet you read German. I bet you read it in German.
Thomas: I did, actually. Anyway the book was a huge scandal in 1870.
Vanda: Well sure. Basically it's S&M porn.
Thomas: It's not S&M porn.
Vanda: You don't think it's porn? Or porn-ish . . . ? For medieval times, 18-whatever, I mean?
Thomas: Venus in Fur is a great love story. It's a serious novel. It's a central text of world literature.
Vanda: Oh,I thought from the play it had to be porn.
Who is right here, the sophisticated intellectual or the clueless streetwise actress? It's a question to be asked, among many others, throughout the performance. It's a question the real author, David Ives, asked himself after he wrote his first draft. He had been reading the novel, and was struck by the theatricality and intensity of the relationship between the writer and the elegant woman he meets wearing fur. He thought he could condense it and turn their dialogue into a play. And he did. He showed it to a director friend, who told him he didn't think it would work. Ives realized the erotically charged relationship of the novel could only be sustained in the reader's imagination; once it became a play it was drained of its power and mystery. He had started out to write a hot drama and ended up with a Monty Python skit.
So he went back to the script, and wrote an entirely new play--which no longer feels like Monty Python. It still does, at times, feel like the novel, and yet is entirely new: funny, sexy, thought provoking and surprising.
But is it porn? Well, there are a few f-bombs hurled around now and then, yet most of the language is witty and much of it is "elevated"---or medieval, 18-whatever, as Vanda might say. There is no nudity, and no simulated sex. Yet I think it fair to say there is erotic tension from start to finish. And there are some rather provocative costumes. It's the theatre. It's not porn, it's a take on a central text of world literature-- though, yes some might still say it is a little porn-ish. That's actually a good thing. You are warned and you are invited!