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Venus in Fur Kinky sex comes to the Alley Theatre via David Ives's provocatively funny Venus in Fur (2010). Vanda (the amazing Nicole Rodenburg) arrives with a thunderclap. Almost materializes — the last one in a long line of actresses that harried director/writer Thomas (equally good Michael Bakkensen) is auditioning for the role of aristocratic Vanda in his adaptation of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's 1870 classic tale of female sexual domination and male humiliation. Tired and irritable, he spews his frustration at the paltry female talent he's had to endure. There are no women out there, when — boom — Vanda blows in, dropping her bags, wet script and F-bombs all over the rehearsal studio. She's everything he's been whining about: ditsy, vapid, artsy-fartsy and a little mad. Vanda cajoles and wheedles a reading of the script. Against his wishes, she quickly drops her everyday wear to reveal a Victoria's Secret ensemble of leather skirt, black stockings and bustier. It's an indelible moment of sexual frisson. She flicks off the overhead fluorescent lights. The room glows amber. In a whip crack, goofy Vanda becomes woman-of-the-world Vanda, the character from his play. She knows all the lines letter perfect; she drips weary sophistication down to her arched fingertips. Her transformation takes Thomas — and us — by complete surprise. Delightfully so. Thomas reads the part of Severin, the shiftless rich hedonist who wants to be dominated. Oozing guile like a siren, Vanda subtly directs her director. Comically switching into her modern airhead mode, she prods him to dig deeper. Tentative at first but then ecstatic, he submits to her will, as the female character he's created on the page stands in front of him, more vivid than he could have ever imagined. Through November 10. 615 Texas, 713-220-5700. — DLG

Veronica's Room Playwright Ira Levin in Veronica's Room gives us an intimate drama and the sense of looming danger, unexpected twists and suspense for which he is noted. An elderly couple have discovered a young woman and her newly met date at a restaurant, and persuaded them to accompany them to a mansion to view a photograph of Veronica, the deceased occupant of the mansion, to whom the young woman bears a striking resemblance. The girl is persuaded to dress up as Veronica, to provide some forgiveness to a woman who's dying of cancer and is delusional. Sally Edmundson and James Belcher portray the elderly couple, and mesh seamlessly into their roles, providing the same distinctive acting they had displayed in the two-hander The Unexpected Man at Stages last year. Teresa Zimmermann as the girl is persuasive and interesting in a very complex role as she attempts to comprehend increasingly strange events. The young man, portrayed by Dwight Clark, has an early minor role but gives an impressive performance in a powerful later re-emergence. The material is strong stuff, not for the weak of heart, as Levin has pulled back a curtain on the tortured extremes to which human beings can resort, and has asked us to join him on a voyage into the heart of darkness. Director Josh Morrison keeps the pace appropriate for whatever deception is on deck at a given moment. Consummate acting and unexpected events take us on an entertaining, gripping roller-coaster ride from a proven master of suspense. Through November 3. Stages, 3201 Allen Parkway, 713-527-0123. — JJT

Blood Wedding Gabriel Lorca was a Spanish playwright, poet, theater director and artist, born in 1898, and arrested and executed in 1936. His family drama, Blood Wedding, has a cast of 23 actors, and the director, Keith Byron Kirk, marshals them adroitly in the series of vignettes that make up the play. Brendon Lara plays Lorca, and is quite good, capturing his probing intelligence and adding a note of narcissistic smugness. The central character is the Bridegroom's mother, bitter at the loss of her son and husband but alive to the happiness grandchildren will bring. The Mother is histrionic, self-dramatizing and powerful in personality, and in playing her, Kiara Feliciano finds all these traits, as well as the self-admitted element of madness. Crash Buist is excellent as the Bridegroom, imposing in his straightforward honesty and love for the Bride, and convincing in his anger as fate turns against him. Lisa Wartenberg has the difficult task of portraying the Bride, a woman who doesn't seem to know her own mind, as she moves from genuine affection for the Groom into an active distaste. A scene between her and an amour, Leonardo, played by Kyle Powell, is intended to illustrate this transition but she and Powell have zero chemistry together, though Powell is quite good as an unfaithful husband. Nate Ruleaux plays the father of the Bride and creates a vivid, interesting portrait of a man happy despite working grudging soil. Precious Merenu is wonderful as a maid. Unfortunately, in the second act, Symbols enter — the Moon and Death. The pace slows, but might be better speeded up, to get them behind us. UH delivers Lorca's intriguing take on the irrationality of passion, brought to life by stimulating acting in an innovative adaptation. Through November 3 at UH's Jose Quintero Theatre, 133 Wortham, 713-749-2929. — JJT

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