Mark Alhadeff and Jenni Putney share the stage in Philadelphia Theatre Company’s "Venus in Fur." Credit: George Street Playhouse Mark Alhadeff and Jenni Putney share the stage in Philadelphia Theatre Company’s "Venus in Fur."
Credit: George Street Playhouse

Philadelphia Theater Company is putting on a play within a play, based on an 1870 novel. Oh, and it’s an erotic novel. By Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, the namesake of “masochism.”

 

“Venus in Fur,” written by David Ives and opening May 29 at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, tells the tale of a director casting a theatrical adaptation of Sacher-Masoch’s scandalous book. All of the action takes place between the director and his potential leading lady, a brassy actress vying for the role of seductress — and S&M connoisseur — Vanda. The director becomes obsessed with the actress, and the pair soon venture into their own S&M-fueled relationship

Step outside the play for a moment: The real-life director, Kip Fagan, says there is no danger of life imitating art in this case. Though while S&M not his cup of tea, Fagan says he is familiar with the dominatrix scene. A former roommate was into it.

“My roommate received a spanking for his birthday as a gift. He was lying naked on a rack and a woman naked except for a mask was whipping him in a dungeon at his birthday party,” Fagan divulges.

He found that “Venus in Fur” was a challenge to direct, but it was not the sexy subject matter that intimidated him.

“Power shifts, which are inherently dramatic, make for a great play. Sex has a lot to do with power, implicitly and explicitly,” he says. “The real challenge was directing a two-man play when the actors are both on stage the entire time. If the characters go off the rails, a new character bringing new energy can’t get the show back on track.”

Last seen off-Broadway directing Vanessa Redgrave and Jesse Eisenberg in “The Revisionist, Fagan says he had an indifferent relationship with the book version of “Venus in Fur” until he read one particular review.

“When I was 17 years old, all of my friends started reading it because of Velvet Underground’s song, “Venus in Furs.” They loved the book. I could not get through it,” he says. “When I was selected to direct the play, I knew I had to read the book. I wasn't able to find my way into the original novel until I read an essay that said, basically, fantasy and reality aren't just intertwined — they are indistinguishable.”

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