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Tuesday, 23 December 2014 11:48

Senior Arts Editor Mark Wigmore has a look at a stage play that has everyone talking. It is being touted as the 'Other' Nutcracker.

Snooty playwright Thomas can't find an actress to play the part of Wanda in his adaptation of the 19th century erotic novel, Venus in Furs. When a performer who shares the first name of the novel's main female character arrives late to audition for the part, Thomas is not amused. But the seemingly vulgar and amateur actress is adorning a very sexy and dominating costume, and her knowledge and portrayal of the part is strangely perfect.

So sets the opening moments of Canstage's Venus in Fur. Here is a moment from the Broadway version of the play:

For those attending the wildly popular production this week, it would be hard not to enter the beautiful bricked confines of the Berkeley Street Theatre without very high expectations. This is the third run of the show here in Toronto, it was a sell out the last two times around, and it's hot off a tour that saw the show take Montreal by storm. It is also the last time the Dora award winning ensemble will mount the provocative story in Toronto.

That ensemble? The vibrantly talented Rick Miller is on board. He knows all there is to know about one and two handers. His counterpart is Carly Street, the film and tv star who has done well on Broadway, but who returns home to Toronto to be brilliant in our city. The director is Jennifer Tarver.

From all the hype, you may think Venus in Fur is a sexy romp that is all eye candy for the fellas, but nothing could be further from the truth. Sure, it is a sexy tale, but it is so much more.

It takes awhile, but soon, Thomas is playing the lead in his own play, exchanging line after line with his new muse. Vonda is eloquent and perfectly believable as her powerful dominatrix character, but hilarity hits regularly as she jumps out of her role, asking questions in her brash bronx accent. Thomas is now so wrapped up in her talent and familiarity with the character, the lines start to blur between the script and real life. Before long, it is Vonda asking the questions and getting annoyed with her director, a reversal of roles that leads to some very dark corners.

Venus in Fur plays with sexuality, gender roles, humor and chauvinism. It is layered in its telling, and intellectual in its outcome. Its meaty theatre that is a high-wire act. The writing is there, but the actors need to be as strong as the author... this version delivers. The Canstage production has the perfect combo of talent, and some would argue it’s a bigger thrill than the Broadway production that took home at Tony. It's a big deal and it runs through Sunday at the Berkeley Street Theatre. for details.

Thank you to all of you who contributed during our Early Spring Campaign.

You are the reason we are able to return to our award-winning programming.


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