Friday, January 28, 2022


By Chuck Graham,


photo by Charles Weisel


Vanda (Samantha Cormier) keeps blurring the line between fantasy and reality for Thomas (David Greenwood) during her theater audition.


Picture a struggle for dominance between the power of seduction and the seduction of power. Who knows more intimately than actors do what it feels like to capture the imagination of another person, creating on demand the most complex emotions drawn out of thin air to please someone who is willing to submit.

That was the challenge playwright David Ives went for in creating such a silken web of desire with “Venus in Fur.” Now, Tucson director Mark Klugheit brings this psychologically shaded study to life for Next Stage Theatre Southwest's brilliant production in association with Andy Watson.

The company's name is new but Klugheit's past work in Tucson includes the stage successes “God of Carnage” and “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) (Revised).”

Cast in this volatile two-hander are Samantha Cormier as mysterious Vanda and David Greenwood as Thomas, a haunted-with-repression New York theater director. As the play begins, Thomas has spent a frustrating day auditioning 30 hopeful young women for the role of Vanda Jordan.

The play is Thomas' own stage adaptation of the 1870 novel “Venus in Fur” by Leopold von Sacher-Masoc. That name lives forever as the inspiration for sadomasochism, finding sexual pleasure in experiencing pain or abject humiliation.

For his own personal reasons, Thomas considers the novel a masterpiece of world literature. Vanda calls it “S and M porn.” But she knows every line of his unpublished script as well as all the referenced European intimacies of wealthy noblewoman Vanda Jordan, the dominatrix of “Venus in Fur.”

All these backstory details gradually come out while we watch as the ping-pong responses of seductor vs seductee suck us deeper into their own fascinations with being actors pretending to take turns enticing each other, first with pleasure then with pain.

She begins as the struggling actress eager to auditioning as he commands, knowing he can hire and fire whomever he wants. But when this desperate creature, from the first word of her reading, seems perfect for the role, he encourages her to go deeper.

That feels so good, she encourages Thomas to get more into the spirit of his own part, to help her by getting more involved himself. So Thomas does, surprised almost to intoxication by her immediately hotter reaction to his amped up reading.

Cormier is a wonder as Vanda, clad in tight black leather lingerie, complete with studded dog collar. She first appears onstage as just the opposite – an overly tossed salad of over-ripe parts, a frazzled actress desperate to audition but hours late for her spot, as she is for every event in life, always a step behind and never quite sure what to do about it.

But shifting immediately into her 19th century Vanda namesake, she becomes a woman of confident European nobility, assured of her position, fully expecting to be satisfied by this torture-wielding nobleman, who is also named Thomas.

Throughout “Venus in Fur,” performed in 85 minutes without intermission, much is implied in the enveloping urgency of Ives' pace and command of luxurious language. Every phrase changes our interpretation of the words we just heard, blocking another parry, another thrust, another defensive block delivered with the opponent's enthusiasm to try harder, go deeper, do it faster.

Greenwood's Thomas, in the beginning, is exhausted over those 30 failures to find a modern female with any idea at all of what it meant to be a wealthy woman of desire and influence in 1870s Europe.

With jaw-dropping immediacy he realizes this Vanda is perfect playing that Vanda. No matter what he commands, she does it more perfectly than he commanded.

Maybe too perfect. He keeps the pressure up, she is eager to accommodate his wishes. With emphasis, she asks him to do more. Of course he will.

Just as Ives wrote it, this dance of willingness to dare the next step continues to escalate their excitement, Greenwood always wanting more until desire becomes demand. Demand becomes rebuke. The more you want, the more you must beg for it, until reality isn't relevant at all.

“Venus in Fur” continues through Sunday, Jan. 30, at the Arizona Rose Theatre located across the hall from the Container Store in the Tucson Mall. Performances are at 7 p.m. Jan. 27-29, matinees at 2 p.m. Jan 29-30. Running time is 85 minutes with no intermission.

Tickets are $25 general admission, $22 for seniors, students and military. For further details and reservations,

Proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID test is required, audiences remain masked during the performance. Theater staff is masked. Actors are not masked.


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