Sultry, Steamy and Sly- “Venus In Fur” Mixes Humor And Eroticism In A Wicked Blend At The Rep Studio

Sarah Nedwek as Vanda and Jay Stratton as Thomas during an intense "audition." Photo courtesy of the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Sarah Nedwek as Vanda and Jay Stratton as Thomas during an intense “audition.” Photo courtesy of the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

The David Ives comedy, “Venus In Fur,” hits home with a theater crowd as it involves an audition where things go off center and very surreal. It’s the final production of the season at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis Studio Theatre. Thomas, the playwright and director, is about to pack up and go home after a harrowing day of auditions where no woman seems right (or intelligent enough) to grasp what he wants in a female lead. Enter Vanda- late and soaked from the tremendous thunderstorm we hear outside this small, stuffy studio. She drops her raincoat to reveal fishnet stockings, a black corset and push-up bra- appropriate dress for this adaptation of a classic German erotic novel- or so she believes.

She appears to be just another in the long line of “Valley Girls” he’s already seen with her abusive language and apparent failure to grasp the nature of the original novel or his play. Her oversized bag of costumes seems to say otherwise, however, and when she starts in on the dialogue (without really referring to the script in her hand), she takes on a different persona and Thomas becomes hooked.

Sarah Nedwek poses as "Venus In Fur" for the Rep Studio Production. Photo courtesy of the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Sarah Nedwek poses as “Venus In Fur” for the Rep Studio Production. Photo courtesy of the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

From there it becomes a back and forth battle for control of the characters- both fictional and real- as Vanda moves in and out of character and we’re never sure who she is or what is real. She not only has mastered the script and the fictional Vanda (they share the same name), but her personal musings about Thomas start to give him and the audience the creeps. Who is this woman? And what is her real purpose in coming to this audition? The entire process starts to take on surreal aspects and we become lost in two different plots that intertwine as well as intrigue.

Sarah Nedwek simply bowls us over with her “split” personality. She is ditzy and devious as the real Vanda and then transforms into astute and articulate as the fictional Vanda while this almost classical script unfolds under her powerful and erotic interpretation. Her split second moves from one to the other in the middle of the readings are jolting, hilarious and simply magnificent. This is one of the finest performances we’ve seen on stage in some time. Jay Stratton matches her intensity as the playwright who goes from a cold reading to ramping up his act to match her dizzying performance. This cat and mouse game becomes all the more intense at play’s end when gender-bending performances come into the picture and those lines of reality and fiction become even more blurred.

Sarah Nedwek and Jay Stratton in the Rep Studio production of "Venus In Fur." Photo courtesy of the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Sarah Nedwek and Jay Stratton in the Rep Studio production of “Venus In Fur.” Photo courtesy of the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Seth Gordon has directed with just as much intensity. The comic portrayals are right on the mark and then he blows us away with the unexpected. He even predicts the provocative final moments as an unusual and seemingly out of character moment involving Vanda’s sensuous change to more seductive footwear starts off with a classic, humorous misunderstanding. Although the play may be a bit longer than needed, it slowly opens and lures us into this strangely erotic dance of love, submission and betrayal.

The Jason Coale set design is straightforward and highly functional in the space that divides the audience into two sides. Seth Jackson’s lights are perfect as Vanda has a hand in creating the proper moods via a circuit breaker box on the wall. The costumes of David Kay Mickelsen are very effective including the “grab bag” that Vonda pulls out of her tote to create moods. And, of course, her seductive “under the raincoat” outfit gives us a perfect look at just what she has in store. As usual, the Rusty Wandall sound design is the perfect addition to the play. The rain storm that continually brews outside reacts just as a real rainstorm does- moments of intensity followed by gentle, subtle sounds that make us aware it’s still there while we get caught up in the story.

“Venus In Fur” was nominated for a Tony Award and Nina Arianda won the Tony as Best Actress as Vanda. Our Vanda, Sarah Nedwek, probably became an early contender for next year’s St. Louis Theater Critics Circle award with this brilliant performance. Call the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis at 314-968-4925 or contact them at http://www.repstl.org for tickets or more information on “Venus In Fur.” It runs at the Studio through March 24th.

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2 Responses to “Sultry, Steamy and Sly- “Venus In Fur” Mixes Humor And Eroticism In A Wicked Blend At The Rep Studio”

  1. John Anglin Says:

    A fantastic show. Bravo to both actors and to the director. What a mind boggling way to spend an evening in the theatre.

    • Steve Allen Says:

      Hi, John- I was impressed with the whole package. Intelligent script well interpreted by Seth Gordon and both actors were great. The playwright has clearly written a powerful vehicle for Vanda and Sarah just took it to the nth degree…Steve

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