Monday, December 26, 2011

Best of 2011 Countdown: #4

Alright, I got a little behind on these lists due to the holiday.  But better late than never, right?

Best of 2011
#4 Venus in Fur

Hugh Dancy and Nina Arianda in Venus in Fur

I loved Venus in Fur.  On a superficial level, I loved the fact that Venus is a new work by an American playwright (David Ives) debuting on Broadway, in a production free of gimmicks or celebrity stunt casting.  But on a deeper level, I loved that this is simply a damn good play with some damn good actors.

The show centers on an extremely unorthodox audition for an adaptation of the sadomasochistic novel Venus in Furs.  After a long day of fruitless searching for his female lead, writer-director Thomas agrees to let struggling actress Vanda audition for him, and the ensuing 90 minutes becomes an erotically charged game of cat and mouse where neither party is completely in control.  To go into greater detail would spoil the fun, but rest assured that the play’s already brief runtime practically flies by, thanks to the skill of Ives’ writing and the fantastic performances.

Reprising her role from the show’s Off-Broadway premiere, Nina Arianda is sensational as Vanda.  She has complete mastery of her character, effortlessly shifting from slapstick comedy to heightened period drama, all the while looking positively radiant in Anita Yavich’s superb costumes.  To see Arianda in this role is to see a star being born, and while that may sound clich√©, I challenge you to think any different after seeing the show.  Expect Arianda to make a repeat appearance among this year’s Best Actress Tony nominees, and possibly even win (she’s just that good).  Thankfully (and somewhat miraculously), her costar Hugh Dancy is every bit as superb, albeit in a less showy performance.

Venus in Fur is top tier theatre.  It is a smart play that raises serious questions about the nature of power, and how being submissive is not necessarily the same as being powerless (in some ways, it can be the stronger position).  It examines gender roles without become preachy or completely demonizing men (an issue I have had with many a feminist-leaning play), and more importantly it does all of this while remaining vastly entertaining.  The play’s success, including the just announced commercial Broadway transfer, is the perfect indication that good theatre is still alive and well on the Great White Way.  Venus in Fur completely deserves it spot among the year’s best shows.

(Note:  To read my full review of Venus in Fur, click here.)

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