When I was offered an opportunity to watch a preview of KWLT’s current show, Venus in Fur, I have to admit that I was a little uneasy accepting. Venus in Fur is not a play that I’m familiar with and all I knew about it was that it involved only two characters: an older, male director auditioning a young, female actress. Even if you haven’t been paying attention to the news, stay off the internet, and have no clue about #metoo, this scenario should send up a red flag, especially if you’re a woman.
The play’s opening, with Thomas, performed by John Settle, ranting into a phone about the impossibility of finding an intelligent, sophisticated, capable actress – a word that Settle spits out like an expletive – didn’t help settle my unease. But then, it wasn’t supposed to. It was supposed to establish the sexist world view that shapes Thomas’s vision of reality. Vanda, performed by Selina Russell, points out to him that while his sexist world view may give him the illusion of power, it costs him the ability to be fully himself. As Russell fluidly moves between the multiple incarnations of Vanda that inhabit the play, she points out that Thomas lives a life that is always less than fulfilling because he cannot accept the parts of him and his desires that do not conform to his vision of “masculine;” that there are aspects of himself that might be labeled as “feminine” that he needs to connect with in order to complete himself. For me, the most striking moment of the play was when Settle, with the same fluidity as Russell, is able to inhabit the Vanda character and finally give himself over the feminine within that he has tried to supress. The feminine he must submit to, is the feminine within.
KWLT’s Venus in Fur is a play that points out that there are no winners in “the battle of the sexes,” just casualties. And you should see it.