A wonderfully complex ballet between sex and power is coming, with TheatreWorks' production of David Ives' Venus in Fur.
"This is a very intricate 90-minute romp," says director Murray Ross. "It's a play about a director who has to adapt the notorious 1869 novel Venus in Furs by Austrian Leopold von Sacher-Masoch" — the novel that put the masoch in masochism.
The book itself follows a man who meets a very elegant woman who persuades him to become her sexual slave. He has a powerful erotic drive to submit to a dominant woman, in pain and pleasure.
In the 2010 play, a director putting Sacher-Masoch's story onstage is looking for a leading woman. But his hopefuls are incompetent, young and clueless — until a late-comer demands an audition. As she takes the stage, so begins a dance between director and actress, in which the latter becomes a dominatrix and power shifts wildly.
"This is a mystery play," Ross says. "You wonder, who is this woman? What is she doing here? What does she really want? What's going on?"
The two-person production offers neither nudity nor simulated sex acts, but instead humor and a continual dance of desire. (Viewer discretion is advised, however, especially for ages 16 and under; children 5 and under will not be admitted to the production, which is being staged at the former SoDo nightclub.) Says Ross: "Many people think this is the sexiest play written in the 21st century."
Venus in Furs was of course shocking in Sacher-Masoch's time, when S&M was just beginning to come out of the closet. But according to Ross, even in the era of 50 Shades of Grey and Anne Rice's Sleeping Beauty series, there is still much our society has to learn.
"Those relationships are complex," Ross says. "It is a mistake to think that there is a dominant one holding all the cards and dishing it out, and the other one is taking it all, and nothing is happening. This is a real dance, this is a real tango."
In fact, the submissive can control as much as the dominant, as Venus shows, and Ross hopes that this play is thought-provoking enough to invite the audience to question the relationship between desire and power.
"They are linked, whether power being taken or power being given," he says. "This can be very dangerous, and it can be very destructive. This is directly relevant to people's experiences and especially their fantasies."