Monday, February 11, 2013

Venus In Fur—Portland Center Stage—Downtown Portland

Who are we . . . really?
This show will be performed at PSC in their studio theatre until March 10th.  The theatre is located at 128 NW 11th Ave. (in the old Armory) in Portland.  It is written by David Ives and directed by Nancy Keystone.  For further information on their Season or tickets, go to or call 503-445-3700.

This is a two-character, highly intense, story (with no intermission) concerning, in short, the relationship between genders.  Specifically, it is from the pen of an 1870’s writer, Sacher-Masoch (where the term sadomasochism comes from, along with the author, De Sade).  From that, you may be able to glean some of the content of the story.

The pedigree of two-character lead’s (a man and a woman) tales, dealing with multiple identities and settings, is an impressive one.  The early 1900’s gave us some European one-acts, The Lesson, regarding an abusive relationship between a student and teacher, as well as later, Mamet’s, Oleanna, and Strindberg’s, Miss Julie, dealing with issues of class, and servant/master relationships.

And, there is Vonnegut’s, Who Am I this Time?, dealing with actors who only become relevant when they are on-stage and Tennessee Williams’s, Outcry, where relationships and situations become murky.  The film, Closetland, having to do with secret identities/selves is in this category and even an old W/B cartoon, with Bugs and Elmer, changing characters, as a wind blows various hats and costumes onto them, which they inhabit.

Perhaps Shakespeare had it right:  “We are such stuff as dreams are made on…” or “All the world’s a stage, and the men and women, merely players….”  Within these limitless boundaries, anything is possible.  And Venus In Fur explores a small piece of this universal pie, the very fabric of our being.  As said, who are we…really?!

On the surface, the story is about a struggling writer and first-time director, Thomas (David Barlow), attempting to cast a play he’s written.  Into this rehearsal space, auditions long over, charges in Vanda (Ginny Myers Lee), dressed in black leathers and metal, ready for her chance at the elusive stardom.  The play he has adapted is of the name and author, mentioned above.  Reluctantly, he gives her a chance and the reading begins.

As they become enveloped in the reading, the lines between their roles and their “real” selves begin to blur.  Reality and Fantasy begin to intermingle and interchange.  The abuser becomes the abused; the master, the slave; even genders shift.  There can be no happy ending for this nightmare but, I guess, it depends on your definition of “happy” and even, “nightmare.”  Reality may be in the eye of the beholder and, if two realities collide, can they both survive?  If so, what would that world look like?  Multiply that, by the number of people on this earth, and it just might equal…Chaos.

The script, by Mr. Ives, is an intriguing study into human relationships.  It is a gripping tale but always has, at least, one foot grounded in the real world, that is, until the end.  Then it throws out that premises and falls into the Absurdist genre.  No, I won’t reveal the twist ending, but it comes off more silly then profound.  It’s as if the creator of this piece had painted himself into a corner with no way out.  But, until then, it’s a fascinating exercise!

The performances are unbelievably good!  Mr. Barlow (a ringer for Rob Lowe) is at his best in the thoughtful moments, as you see him listening, considering and acting on the events as they quickly take place.  He is totally convincing in the role.  And Ms. Lee, as the actress, is astounding!  She shifts from one character to another and then, a third, with such ease, you think it is a different person onstage.  She is so convincing as she reveals such conflicting stories as to who she is and how she knows the things she’s saying that, in the end, you really don’t know what to believe.  An amazing, sustained performance in a tension-filled play from each of these professionals.  Bravo, cast!

Ms. Keystone must also be commended for the vision and interpretation of this story with its many twists and turns.  The pacing is rapid but the audience is in her, and the cast’s, grip at every bend in this winding road.

In the end, what is “real?”  Extreme Nationalists would have us believe that domination over all is the purpose.  Some Financial Experts might argue that Greed is the aim.  Some religious leaders would contend God is the only answer.  Some Scientists say we are only interconnected dots.  For me, I tend to, perhaps naively, side with the Poets and Dreamers, in that, we may all see the world differently but it can be a beautiful one if we just “let it be….”

I recommend this show, but with reservations as those offended by the subject matter or strong language.  If you do go, tell them Dennis sent you.

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