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Women In Theatre Brings "Venus In Fur" to Bellevue

There’s a new theater trying to gain a foothold in Northern Kentucky.

WIT (Women in Theatre) has been in production in a church basement in Bellevue for more than a year. Budget is low, ambition is high.

Venus in Fur, a sexy and sly meta-comedy by popular playwright David Ives, is next up, playing Fridays and Saturdays from Oct. 16-24. (It was a hit in New York when it debuted in 2010.)

Venus is inspired by 19th century writer Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s novella Venus in Furs (in original German Venus im Pelz, which sounds a lot kinkier) about an unnamed man who dreams about speaking to goddess Venus while she is wearing furs… (Just FYI, Sacher-Masoch was said to have been writing close to his own experiences…)

And if you’ve ever wondered the source of the word ‘masochism,’ take another look at the author’s name.

Oh, we’re teasing. And so is the playwright. Ives’s adaptation is merely playful. Its naughtiness level is appropriate for its location, below the stairs at St. John United Church of Christ, for crying out loud.  

Thomas, a novice director, is holding auditions for his play based on the Sacher-Masoch novella. Ditzy (or is she?) actress Vanda breezes in and suddenly – Venus is all about men and women, constantly shifting power, role-playing – and headgame-playing. (Audience head-game – is Vanda just Vanda, or is she Venus, paying a visit to 21st century NYC?)

WIT founder/producer/director/woman-of-all-work Donna Hoffman saw the show at Playhouse in the Park a couple of years ago and liked it, but, “I thought something was missing.” She decided to have a go at it herself.

Hoffman describes her directing style as “organic” – she and her actors began the initially sporadic rehearsal process in June – and after weeks of rehearsal she had an “ah-ha” moment.

Hoffman describes her take on the play in one word: “Servitude.”

She calls the WIT production “a speculation on the innate power of women and how that power is reflected in the 21st century against a 19th century backdrop” and firmly adds that Venus “explores women’s servitude by wrapping the story in a sadomasochistic, black fur stole.”

While Hoffman hypothesizes that “1870 is an important playwriting choice for Venus in Fur because it was in this year that African-American male slaves were given the right to vote through the 15th Amendment” (she elaborates on her theme in her program notes), it should be noted that Ives was simply setting the action of the play-within-the-contemporary-play in the year (1870) the novella was published.

Hoffman quotes dialogue from Venus to illustrate her concept of ‘servitude’: “Vanda, speaking in 1870, says, ’In our society, a woman’s only power is through men. Her character is her lack of character. She’s a blank, to be filled in by creatures who at heart despise her. I want to see what Woman will be when she ceases to be men’s slave. When she’s his equal in education and his partner in work. When she becomes herself. An individual --- God, old Vanda’s seriously ahead of her time, isn’t she?’

“Thomas, speaking in 2015, says, ‘This is a chemical reaction. Two people meet and ignite each other. It’s about a woman who recognizes something in herself and about a man who until he meets her is forced to hide his true self away.’”

Venus features Hannah Goodman, who earned her B.A. in Theatre from Miami University and most recently appeared in WIT’s Honour; Sam Fisher most recently appeared in the film, The Intervention, which won Top Ten in the City and Best Acting for the 2015 Cincy 48 Hour Film Fest.  

Venus in Fur, Oct. 16-24. Women in Theater (WIT), The Avenue Stage, St. John United Church of Christ, 520 Fairfield Ave., Bellevue. 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Patrons invited to bring their own lawn chair. Tickets $18, Click Here. There will be opportunities for selfies on stage with the actors after every performance.

Written by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts

Photo provided