Humor and complexity in Merc’s ‘extremely adult’ production
By Marcy Stamper
Venus in Fur is an intriguing, tantalizing title, and the crew at The Merc Playhouse promise that the show – an edgy, contemporary comedy about desire, vulnerability and relationships viewed through the lens of cultural conventions – will live up to that promise.
“I chose the play because it has a very powerful message,” said Ki Gottberg, artistic director of The Merc and director of Venus in Fur, which opens Friday (June 24) and continues through the following weekend. “How is it that we, as individuals, come upon our notions of what romance is in our lives, and how is it we engage in the world based on our romantic notions?”
Venus in Fur, with just two characters, is a sophisticated, “extremely adult” comedy that looks at desire from all perspectives. It explores what we desire, how we go about getting it, and whether that’s what we truly want or it’s merely a fantasy created by society, said Gottberg.
Venus in Fur starts with a simple premise. A playwright, Thomas (Chris Behrens), is disenchanted that even after auditioning 35 actors he can’t find the perfect woman for his play. When Vanda (Missi Smith) arrives late to the audition, Thomas has already written her off as one more hopeful without the requisite talent and is impatient to get home to his fiancé. But the tables get turned in a very interesting way, said Gottberg.
“Venus has really good characters who are fascinating and complex,” said Smith. “It’s a play within a play.” She said the play even exists on a third level, when you think about the actors and the audience and artistic trade-offs between vulnerability and control. “Do we create drama in life, or in a play?” she said.
“The play makes you squirm — and also makes you laugh at human foibles,” said Gottberg.
Smith has held leading roles in several other shows at The Merc, but Venus has been especially challenging, both for the demanding role (she never leaves the stage) and for the adult theme and the costuming. For part of the action, Smith’s character is scantily clad in her underwear.
Behrens has also been on the local stage, most recently in The Importance of Being Earnest.
Smith and Behrens are both experienced amateur actors, and Gottberg said there are no other actors – including professionals – she would rather cast in these roles. “They are absolutely perfect for this,” she said. “It’s a pretty incredible vehicle for two actors.”
While the play deals with serious, contemporary themes and includes swearing and other provocative language, it is also very funny, said Smith. “Ki has pulled a lot more humor out of it than other directors have,” she said. “It’s been a ton of fun to do.”
Gottberg praised the playwright, David Ives, for a masterful script marked by fast and furious wordplay. Venus has been produced in major theaters around the country, but rarely gets a performance in a small, rural theater like The Merc, she said.
The Merc advises people that Venus in Fur includes “funny and provocative social commentary, swearing and lingerie.”
Venus in Fur opens Friday (June 24) and runs through July 2, with just seven performances, Wednesday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.
Tickets are $16–$18 with some reserved seating available. Wednesday, June 29, is date night, when couples can get a 10-percent discount plus one free drink each when they buy a ticket online at www.mercplayhouse.org. On Thursday, June 30, theater-goers pay what they can.