With a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dramaturgy/Dramatic Criticism, Alyssa Dyksterhouse has over 20 years of professional theater experience. She recently returned from the living in the Pacific Northwest where she wrote about arts and culture for Seattle Weekly and Seattle Gay Scene.
Pictured: Arti Ishak and Zach Livingston. Photo by Cody Jolly Photography.
Did you know that Austrian author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch is the “M” in S&M? In 1870 he published a novella VENUS IN FUR expressing his fantasies and fetishes which mostly revolved around dominant women wearing, you guessed it, fur. Said work is the inspiration for David Ives play of the same name. Unfortunately, the play offers as much understanding of “total power exchange” as FIFTY SHADES. This dark comedy centers around hyper-sexual power plays and Circle’s Theatre’s production is tops.
The action starts as writer/director Thomas (Zach Livingston) bemoans the fact that he cannot find the perfect actress to star in his adaptation of Masoch’s work when foul-mouthed, bratty Vanda (Arti Ishak) arrives hours late donning a dog collar and leather bustier demanding an audition for the domme who is also named Vanda. Since the male readers have gone home, he surrenders to playing the role of slave Severin von Kusiemsk. Bouncing from play within a play to audition, the two engage in a sensual game of cat and mouse culminating in Vanda threatening to leave so Thomas kneels beseeching her to stay; hence, fortifying the of dynamic of Mistress and servant.
Ishak masters both modern-day actress and untraditional Victorian. During her audition, she frequently breaks character gyrating from Lincoln Park Trixie to a lady from “18-something” complete with vocal and physical changes. Meanwhile Livingston visibly moves from disdain to captivation. As the action accelerates the ingénue’s depth dominates the stage and her scene partner. With considerable chemistry, I conjectured they were going to get kinky on the casting couch.
In addition to her range, Ishak embodies the enigmatic energy of Vanda. For example, she says she merely skimmed the play when she has it memorized. Is she a sex kitten or a feminist? (Because in this play the two are mutually exclusive) Her intentions are revealed in a Deus-Ex-Machina ending complete with lighting (Maya Michele Fein) and sound (Dominic McDaye) effects rivaling the Greeks.
By modern day standards the source material might be misogynist but then again, the same could be said about Shakespeare. Shit, you can get lost on the internet reading why SHERLOCK is sexist. More importantly, applying
vanilla current feminist or gender standards on issues involving BDSM is as much of a disservice as looking at LGBTQ+ issues in a heteronormative context. For this reason, Ives’ script warrants a spanking; however, the dialogue is delicious. If you are looking to watch some erotic entertainment involving whips, VENUS IN FUR surpasses that which you will find at the movies.