“Venus in Fur” is sexually charged, to be sure, but it’s the power struggle that lies beneath the erotica that makes this searing Huntington Theatre Company production so compelling.
It all begins innocently enough when Vanda, a dim-witted actress, arrives so late for an audition that only Thomas, the playwright and director, is left in the rehearsal space. After engaging in some witty banter that perfectly captures the challenging lifestyle of a working stage actor, the aspiring thespian convinces the director to let her read for the lead in the upcoming adaptation of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s “Venus in Furs.”
And so begins a psychologically torturous game of cat and mouse. Lines are crossed and boundaries are violated as the power changes hands, again and again, between the two as they forge a twisted, steamy liaison.
Much of what makes this production so fascinating is that most of the battling is waged as the characters read from their parts in the play within the play.
Andrea Syglowski masterfully shifts between her two Vandas (the lead in the play is also named Vanda) with impeccable timing that yields much-needed laughter in the midst of the increasingly heated exchanges. Her ability to switch from childlike vulnerability to sexpot dominance, on a dime, is disturbingly sociopathic — in a good way.
As Thomas, Chris Kipiniak proves her estimable match on this erotically-charged rollercoaster ride. While he flip-flops from dom to sub, and back again, with exhausting authenticity, some of his finest moments come at the top of the play, when he's flatly reading lines with his excellent scene partner. This is no easy feat.
No matter how they dress it up, (leather, lace, a dog collar, for example), at its core “Venus In Fur” works, first and foremost, because of the extraordinary chemistry between the two actors.
If you go
“Venus in Fur” Through Feb. 2 Huntington Theatre 264 Huntington Ave., Boston $15 - $85, 617-266-0800 huntingtontheatre.org