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Venus in Fur brings S&M to the theatre

 By Liv Ingram, September 9 2014 — 

Before 50 Shades of Grey, there was Venus in Furs. The 1870 erotic novel by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch deals with gender roles, female domination and masochism — for which Sacher-Masoch is the namesake — in a time when it was indecent for a woman to show her ankles.

On Sept. 9, Alberta Theatre Projects (ATP) opens its 2014–15 season withVenus in Fur, a play-within-a-play based on Masoch’s novel.

Adapted for the stage in 2010 by American playwright David Ives, the play centres around Thomas Novache, a director in search of an actress to play the lead female role in an adaptation of Sacher-Masoch’s novel. After a long and unsuccessful day of auditions, a brash actress, Vanda Jordan, shows up at the last minute and begs Thomas to let her audition. Vanda convinces him to read opposite her as the male character and she delivers an inspired performance. As the actress and director come in and out of character, the play questions the relationship between seduction and power as the lines between fantasy and reality are blurred.

It’s a comedy of manners,” says ATP artistic director Vanessa Porteous. “It talks about power dynamics [between] men and women, and how tricky it is to figure out what your real wants and desires are and what is just something that you’re saying to yourself in order to make yourself more noble.”

Porteous says she was drawn to the “sexy, funny and smart” nature of the play and says it was a natural fit for ATP because it aligns with the company’s mandate to produce socially relevant contemporary plays.

Alberta Theatre Projects does plays about what it means to be alive right now and that includes a little bit of blue language, but nothing that the average person hasn’t said or thought in their own living rooms,” says Porteous.

Although the play deals with sexuality and Vanda (Amanda Lisman) is scantily clad for the majority of the performance, actor Tim Campbell, who plays Thomas, says what happens on stage is PG.

There’s no overt sex in the play that way. It is very sexually tense and the dynamism of the sexual relationship between the two of them is very vivid, but it’s not X-rated,” says Campbell. “It’s as much intellectually provocative as it is sexually provocative. It’s also a really funny play.”

Venus in Fur runs Sept. 9–27 at the EPCOR Centre’s Martha Cohen Theatre. Tickets start at $30, but on Sept. 16 students can see the play for $10 as part of ATP’s “That $10 Ticket Thing”. Advance purchase for $10 tickets is advised as the event sells out quickly. The actors will stay for a talkback session after the Sept. 16 performance.

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