‘Venus in Fur’ at Bluebarn Theater
January 30th, 2018
Omaha, NE—Venus in Fur is the next play to be shown at the Bluebarn Theatre. It’s based on the 19th century erotic novel Venus in Furs written by Austrian Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, whose name gave rise to the word “masochism”—as in sadomasochism. You could consider the novel one of the original texts on the subject, but the contemporary play by David Ives is the story of just two characters—a modern director and actress looking to adapt the story for the stage.
Barry Carmen (Dramaturg): Yes, but each of them plays four or five characters within the play within the play. It’s not putting it too mildly to say that Sarah transforms, like, six times on a dime and Matthew has almost as big of a challenge. They switch genders, switch roles within the play within a play, they come back out of the opposite role again and then they are constantly switching back and forth into their titular roles as director and actor.
Ablan Roblin (Director): It’s not written in a way that it’s dated but these two actors have strong backgrounds in Shakespearean theater and the ability for them to move in and out of period and into something stylized and contemporary, they do it effortlessly and we were incredibly lucky to have these guys audition for us and then work with us in that sense. It has been truly exciting to work with these guys because sometimes material that stylized can be intimidating and I think with these two actors there is a relish in enjoying that stylized form of theater. They enjoy it greatly, so that adds itself to a great level and dimension to what they’re doing.
And at the Bluebarn, with ambitious acting comes ambitious costume design:
Carmen: They go from everywhere from streetwear to vintage 1870s period pieces to S&M gear to put it bluntly.
And set design, according to Artistic Director Susan Toberer:
Toberer (Artistic Director): Well, I will say it will be the first time in our own home space on 10th and Pacific that—I don’t know, maybe I shouldn’t say—It’s going to rain on stage.
At the heart of the performance is an examination of gender, relationships and communication. The original novel was unique in how its portrayal of female dominance in 1870, but the play nuances the concept in a modern context.
Carmen: It becomes problematic because that purportedly really progressive thought is embedded in a text that idealizes women in fantastical dominant and submissive roles that are kind of interchangeable but only at these extremes. For him to say that is—I don’t know if it’s a cop out. It’s a problem of the play or question of the play, so what does it mean that that is the ideal—how that manifests in this dominatrix, submissive, slave relationship and how that goes back and forth. This can’t be your only choice to empower and fully realize das female.
But the big question on a lot of minds might be how does sadomasochism play out on stage?
Carmen: Come find out. We don’t want to give that away, but you know, yeah, it does get explored in a satisfying way but it’s not exhibitionism by any means. We’re not watching an S&M performance art piece. It’s handled as tastefully as S&M can be.
Venus in Fur will open at the Bluebarn Theater on Thursday, Feb. 1 at 7:30pm. The show will run Thursdays thru Sundays until Feb. 25. For more information or tickets, visit Bluebarn.org.
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