Encore Michigan

Outvisible’s ‘Venus in Fur’ is smart and delicious in leather

Review February 16, 2019 David Kiley

ALLEN PARK, Mich.–Who doesn’t like to see a good old shift in power take place in front of them. Maybe it’s the mugger who steals the purse of a mature lady, then runs, and then gets tackled by some Samaritans who even the score and sit on the guy until the cops arrive.

When Dani Cochrane as Vanda struts around the small Outvisible Theatre stage in a leather bustier and stockings in the theater’s production of Venus in Fur, it is clear that she is shifting the balance of power with Joshua Brown as her director/playwright Thomas Novachek (Joshua Brown).

When the play opens, Novachek is the writer-director of a new play, an adaptation of an adaptation of the 1870 novel Venus in Furs by the Austrian author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch who happens to be the writer who inspired the term “masochism“.

The play begins with the director on the phone complaining about the inadequacies of the actresses who showed up earlier that day to audition for the lead character, Wanda von Dunayev. Just as he is getting ready to leave to go home to his wife, an actress called Vanda Jordan (Cochrane) bursts in. Vanda is a bit coarse, chewing gum, and hardly seems the type to play the 19th century refined Wanda. Indeed, her credentials as an actress are in question. She blusters her way into a chance to read the part, and with the director no less because the “reader” to play opposite Vanda in the play has gone home. Thomas reads the part of Severin von Kushemski.

It is quickly evident that Vanda is a much better actress than we think she might be, slipping out of her hair-twirling, gum chewing, vulgar façade and into the role she came to win. Thomas is as taken aback by her acting depth as he is her black stockings and garters. She has shown up dressed like this because she sees the script and story as being “porn.”

The structure of the play is compelling with the actors slipping in and out of the script as they converse as individuals talking about the script and story, and debating what is going on in Thomas’s play. Thomas is on defense, but comes back a few times trying to put Vanda back in her place. Ha!

Cochrane, helped along by excellent writing by David Ives, does a superb job of keeping the audience guessing about who she is and where she might have come from. How did she get a copy of the entire script? Is she really as rough and vulgar as she seems? Is she real, or maybe some apparition appearing out of the original 19th century novel? Does she know Thomas’s fiancee or not? It is all pretty delicious, and has exactly the right amount of uncertainty to keep it all interesting.

The play also explores in a good way the balance of power between the genders. In some ways it is reminiscent of David Mamet’s Oleanna.

Joshua Brown is solid, and also conveys uncertainty about who he really is, and what really powers his engine, as well as the conflict  between his alpha self as a director and writer, and another side of him that clearly colors his view of women.

Director Adriane Galea did an exceptional job of casting, and she has shown a keen eye for good work to produce at Outvisible.

Be advised that the SHOW WILL BE PERFORMED 2/22-3/2 AT 460 HILTON RD., FERNDALE, MI. It’s hard to imagine fitting more than 20 or so people in the space, which means that patrons get an extraordinary and intimate theatre experience delivered by two of Michigan’s leading actors. It is a treat.

Click here for show days, times and details.https://www.encoremichigan.com/shows/venus-in-fur-02-14-03-03/