AISLE SAY Philadelphia


Written by David Ives
Directed by Christen Mandracchia
The Centre Theater, 208 DeKalb Street, Norristown, PA
Closed June 26, 2016

Reviewed by Claudia Perry

Closing today at The Centre Theater is Venus in Fur by David Ives, an adaptation of the 1870 novel, “Venus in Furs” by the Austrian author, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (the book which happened to inspire the term “Masochism”). This play-within-a-play opened off-Broadway at the Classic Stage Company in 2010 and subsequently opened on Broadway in 2011. Directed by Walter Bobbie, leading lady, Nina Arianda won a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play. Since then there have been productions in Sacramento, Australia, Canada and Lebanon. In 2012 Roman Polansky directed a French film version of the play starring his wife, Emmanuelle Seigner, featuring a screenplay that was translated into French by Mr. Ives.

David Ives is a playwright, screenwriter and novelist famous for his comic one-act plays. The New York Times has referred to him as the “maestro of the short form”. Some of his best known works are, “All in the Timing” an evening of six one-act plays and “Lives of the Saints” an evening of seven one-acts. Mr. Ives has done many translations and adaptations of plays, written newly adapted books for many musicals and for several years was a regular adapter for the New York City Center Encores! series of American musicals in concert.

Thomas Novachek is the writer/director a new play opening in New York City based on Sacher-Masoch’s novel. He laments the inadequacies of the actresses who have shown up to audition for the leading role of Wanda von Dunayev. That is until Vanda Jordan bursts onto the scene two hours late. Though brash, crass and full of malapropisms, Vanda convinces Thomas to let her audition for the part with Thomas reading the role of Severin von Kushemski. As thunder and lightning crashes outside, Vanda shows enormous insight into the role and gives a winning audition. As the actress and director become more involved in their characters, roles are reversed and the actress establishes dominance over the director, which is similar to what occurs in the original novel.

Kellie Cooper gives a dynamic and very funny performance as the seemingly wacky yet scheming femme fatale, Vanda Jordan. Statuesque with legs that go on for days, Ms. Cooper handles the physical comedy with ease. She snorts and screeches as the actress Vanda, but then effortlessly transforms into the austere La Belle Époque dominatrix, Wanda. Christopher T. McGinnis is adept at his transformations from the director, Thomas Novacheck to the characters of Severin Kushemski and Wanda von Dunayev. This production trots along at a swift pace due to the energetic direction by Christen Mandracchia who keeps the actors mobile using all the space available to her in the small theater. She also wrings out a lot of laughs with slapstick bits. The only element missing from this production is the lack of palpable carnal chemistry between the two actors. Though the two characters never kiss, the sexual tension should build to a boiling climax as Vanda seduces Severin into being her cowering slave. This is what makes the piece crackle like a cat o’ nine tails on a hot tin roof. Though we do laugh a lot in this production, we miss that sexual kick of Vanda’s big, black boots.

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