Venus in Fur


Through Saturday, Mar. 14

Moonlight Stage Company, Raleigh

Raleigh’s Moonlight Stage Company has the region’s most intimate theater venue, hands down: a 9-by-14-foot stage in a room that holds just 40 patrons, nestled in an office complex off Falls of Neuse Road.

This intimacy reinforces the drama at Moonlight Arts & Entertainment, a professional theatrical hothouse for television, film, and stage actors. (It’s also why the presenter, amid a growing wave of cancellations amid coronavirus concerns, is proceeding with this show through Saturday as planned.)

Case in point: Moonlight’s current production is Venus in Fur, humorist David Ives’s thoughtful and only somewhat comic resetting of the racy 1870 novel Venus in Furs by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, an Austrian journalist whose converging literary and sexual proclivities gave us the term “masochism.” (In an eerie bit of synchronicity, Bare Theatre is currently staging Marat/Sade, about the person whose sexual proclivities gave us the word “sadism.”)

In Ives’s witty, knowledgeable dramedy, playwright and first-time director Thomas Novachek (Patrick Osteen) has endured a day of auditions without finding the female lead for his new adaptation of the Sacher-Masoch text. Enter Vanda Jordan (Ali Evarts), a seemingly ditzy young actor who begs him for a chance to read, even though she’s hours late for her audition.

No, all is not as it seems—on either side of this theatrical equation—as Jordan’s immediate brilliance in the role of a nascent domme turns her three-page audition into a bravura read-through of the entire script, with Novachek as the louche submissive who pursues her.

But the psychosexual cat-and-mousery slowly segues out of the play-within-a-play, as Jordan increasingly displays uncanny knowledge of the script, source material, and Novachek’s personal life.

In a promising directorial debut, UNC alum Katie Paxton clearly knows the world of odd auditions. She deftly guides a prismatic Evarts and a bemused Osteen through these hairpin curves. Ives’s delectable feminist script incorporates several revenge scenarios simultaneously as it interrogates all-too-common power dynamics, in both the theater and the murky world of self-serving het-boy fantasies.

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