On Stage Now: Venus in Fur

Blog: 11.10.11

Thursday, November 10, 2011 - 12:00 PM

This week, David Ives’ Venus in Fur opened at Manhattan Theatre Club's Friedman Theatre for a limited run, with Nina Arianda playing opposite British actor Hugh Dancy.  The show opened Off Broadway in January 2010 and killed; the New York Times’ critic called Arianda's performance sensational, and heralded the birth of a star. 

Arianda plays the aspiring actress Vanda, who enters an audition room to read for a leading role.  The play-within-the-play is a new adaptation of Venus in Furs, the erotica novel by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (the original masochist). Vanda has to smoothly morph from flighty performer to 1870s aristocrat to seductive dominatrix as her audition turns into an intense psychosexual power struggle with the show's self-righteous playwright.

The part of Vanda demands an actress who can master both the modern and classical styles required of the role.  Arianda auditioned for the show just months out of graduate school. "She didn't just read the lines as a character," director Walter Bobbie said in a New Yorker profile. "She brought the entire script to life."  She got the role on the spot, no callback. 

The actress’ fairy-tale trajectory continued; she auditioned for the part of Billie in Born Yesterday and was offered the role after only one meeting.  She received a Tony nomination for this, her Broadway debut.  

If you find yourself skeptical of the buzz around theater’s newest "it" girl, put it aside.  Arianda’s performance in Venus in Fur is a tour-de-force, funny and gripping and intense — she flashes between identities with a jarring electricity and astonishing specificity.  Ives’ play, ostensibly a comedy, sucks the audience up into a sexy, scary game of cat-and-mouse.  Then it spits us out at the end with our hearts in our throats.

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