Tuesday, November 13, 2012

GableStage: Venus In Fur (6 reviews)

GableStage opened its production of David Ives' Venus in Fur on November 10, 2012.
A young actress is determined to land the lead in a new play based on a classic erotic novel about a 19th-century dominatrix. When she meets the writer-director, her audition becomes an electrifying game of cat-and-mouse, blurring the lines between fantasy and reality, seduction and power, love and sex.
Joseph Adler directed Matthew William Chizever and Betsy Graver.

Hap Erstein reviewed for Palm Beach ArtsPaper:
...Graver... completely embodies this enigmatic creature, just as she wears the alluring costume like a second skin. Graver has been director Joe Adler’s go-to girl for callow young pawns in the past, but here she shows exceptional skill in a central role, switching gears from actress to role with whiplash speed and clarity.

The play belongs to Vanda, but it is a duet and it requires a dance partner for her of sufficient ability to make the skirmish sizzle. Chizever makes his GableStage debut as Thomas, a teddy bear of a man, insecure and quickly in over his head with this vixen, yet able to turn the tables as needed.

The sparks fly between them in this brief, yet satisfying pas de deux. Do not be surprised if you have the urge for a cigarette afterwards, even if you do not smoke.
After an interminable exposition of the play's story, John Thomason eventually got around to reviewing for The Miami New Times:
Both of the central roles are unusually demanding, but all eyes will be on Graver first and foremost. She's playing the role popularized on Broadway by Nina Arianda, whose Tony-winning performance catapulted her to overnight stardom. These are impossible shoes to fill for any regional actress, so Graver eschews emulation, instead making the character her own. In Graver's portrayal, under Joseph Adler's direction, the laugh lines are fewer, their delivery less comic than disquieting...
The revelations that ensue represent a breakthrough for both our perception of Graver and Thomas's perception of Vanda...  I never knew she was capable of such transformation and abandon.
Chizever, in his GableStage debut, deserves credit as well. It seemed that on Broadway, Arianda rendered costar Hugh Dancy all but meek dust and bones. Here, Chizever is slower to acquiesce to Vanda's charms. He has genuine presence, and his transition from flustered creator to smitten slave is gradual and authentic.

Both his and Graver's readings were flawless on opening night. If anything could be improved, their sexual power plays in the end could use a bit more smoldering intensity, which might increase as Venus in Fur's run continues and the actors grow more comfortable performing uncomfortable acts in front of a discomfited audience.
Since most of us didn't see the Broadway production, it's pointless for Thomason to keep referring to them.  He should be reviewing this production on its own merits, and not propping up his review with empty comparisons.

Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
David Ives’ Venus in Fur, a Broadway hit with roots in Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s 1870 novella Venus in Furs, has kicked off GableStage’s 15th season in a production full of thunder, lightning and sexual tension.
Venus in Fur is an intricate, complex dance for two actors, one that has been choreographed exquisitely by director Joseph Adler...
Chizever, making a long overdue GableStage debut, uses his seductive voice like a virtuoso musician. The most erotic moment of the play belongs to him, as he relates the life-altering experience that linked the sensuality of fur and the pleasure of pain in Kushemski’s erotic DNA. Because Vanda is the showier part in Venus in Fur, actors playing Thomas can be overwhelmed by the force of a bravura female lead. That never happens with the artful Chizever.
Thanks to costume designer Ellis Tillman, the beautiful Graver certainly looks the part of Vanda, domineering in black lingerie, boots and a dog collar, more demure yet still provocative in that white gown. Her character is all about deception and a concealed agenda, so that when it turns out that this crude and scattered young woman really can act, the audience is as surprised as Thomas. Though her dual versions of Vanda eventually coalesce into a more-than-worthy opponent for Thomas, Graver at first plays Vanda as if the actress is a valley girl airhead who has overdosed on energy drinks. Dialing that initial iteration of Vanda back a few notches wouldn’t hurt a bit.
...Chizever and Graver eventually achieve all that dramatic thunder and lightning (with a major assist from sound designer Matt Corey and lighting designer Jeff Quinn), and Venus in Fur becomes in intellectually and emotionally provocative experience, despite the fact that nobody gets naked and no one gets hurt. There’s a lesson in that, E.L. James.
Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
Venus In Fur, the only thing to be certain of is the stunning performance by Betsy Graver. She creates a mysterious actress who seems a bubble-headed bimbo one moment. In the next, the same character preternaturally inhabits the part of the cultured noblewoman that she is auditioning for. Then the ditz is back again, literally in the space a few seconds.

It is a star-making role for Graver who has worked hard for the past few seasons in supporting parts in The Motherf**ker With The Hat, Blasted and Time Stands Still at GableAStage.
Just savor the work of director Joseph Adler, actor Matthew William Chizever as the playwright/director auditioning Graver’s character and GableStage’s familiar team of crack designers.
As her partner in the dance, Chizever exhibits that smooth, seamless leading man quality that mirrors his warm baritone voice. The fact that Ives has given him a less showy role does not detract from Chizever’s solid depiction of a man headed for a serious fall... Unlike the hunks who performed the role in New York, Chizever makes the descent even more credible and relatable because while he is certainly handsome, he is not movie star dazzling.
... Venus In Fur is a solid way to kick off GableStage’s 15th season with a kaleidoscope of sexual power in which we’re not sure who is on top, literally or figuratively.
Or maybe a cigar is just a cigar.
Roger Martin reviewed for miamiartzine:
...Betsy Graver and Matthew William Chizever can mesmerize an audience pretty much by just standing center stage. Don't believe me? Then go to see Joe Adler's production of Venus in Fur at GableStage.
This is a funnily erotic evening, nothing too crass, but with enough Betsy Graver exposed to lighten the load of an intellectually charged script. Let me hasten to add that Chizever and Graver dressed in sackcloth and ashes would keep us entranced. Graver switches back and forth from dumb bunny actress to well bred dominatrix with wondrous ease. Chizever has a quietly charming stage presence. The assertive director becoming tail wagging puppy is impressive stuff.
Ron Levitt wrote for ENV Magazine:
The GableStage version is so well directed  by Adler and so perfectly acted that it  will certainly get the attention of local acting awards. Graver is outstanding and Chizever is a wonder  -always on the top of his game. ( In this gig,  never better!)

Lyle Baskin delivers a realistic set, Jeff Quinn adds with his lighting skills and Matt Corey provides electrifying thunderstorm sounds to heighten the drama.  Ellis Tillman adds to the erotic sense of this production as he costumes Graver.
Venus In Fur plays at GableStage through December 9, 2012.

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