Arts editor HELEN MUSA looks at summer shows and arts events coming up
“VENUS In Furs” is a play that delves into the competing historical sexual paradigms through which genders have navigated over the past two hundred or so years.
Semantic traps are embedded in the dialogue. The two central characters, Thomas Novachek (playwright/director) and Vanda Jordan (an aspiring actress), self-consciously entrap each other into offensive statements on sexual desire. Such statements are then deconstructed and used as fuel to chide the other.
Sex is the source of power, control and warfare with no prisoners. David Ives has touched some raw nerves in this aggressively funny yet disturbing play.
Craig Alexander and Joanna Richards provide engaging and high-tempo performances with excellent control of the language. This heightens the semantic play within a play.
The confusions resulting from roleplay and real desire provide the dramatic tension that keeps the momentum and suggesting some dire outcome. The stage setting is immediately effective with a recognisable location that still suggests something sinister.
It might surprise audiences to find a play that references S&M provides no salacious content. Rather polemical positions are held up for shredding. The stereotypical male writer establishes the locked-in white male pseudo-academic searching and tortured soul seeking some idealistic truth. The stereotypical streetwise female displays the deceptive abilities and an insightful heart of the beaten but resilient gender warrior/rectifier.
Ives uses these seemingly superficial types to infuse the play with a dialectic source for examining the assumptions underpinning sexual action. Aided by the infusion of comic and self-deprecating asides, it demands concentration from the audience.
At its heart, the play seems to delve into that same psychological territory occupied by Stephen King’s “Gerald’s Game”; though with none of the horror writer’s tricks.
Ive’s play is very much a battle of semantics and this may obscure the deeper inclinations and ambiguities that shroud sexual explorations. It is more concerned with political considerations and the social assumptions and constructions that encase the literature and the popular use and misuse of sexual appropriation. In this sense, “Venus In Furs” is a bold challenge to audiences and the use of sex in art.