Playwright David Ives has a "particular kind of off-kilter humor," says Alley Theatre Artistic Director Gregory Boyd, and its that special approach that's led the Alley to produce his works before (Mere Mortals, All in the Timing).
The difference with Venus in Fur, Boyd says, is that this is the first sort of real extended play Ives has written and one that shows a great leap in his play-writing abilities
The 95-minute, one-act, two-actor play is based on the erotic novel "Venus in Furs" which reportedly inspired an Austrian psychiatrist to coin the term "masochism" after its author's last name (Leopold von Sacher-Masoch ).
In it, a young actress named Vanda (Nicole Rodenburg making her Alley debut) desperate to play the lead in a play goes toe-to-toe with tough playwright-director Thomas (Michael Bakkensen, who did Ether Dome at the Alley last season).
Brandon Weinbrenner, the Alley Theatre's resident assistant director, will be making his directorial debut in this piece which he stresses is a comedy, although not one for younger children. "It goes to a dark place with S&M, but it's still a comedy," he says.
As he worked with the actors, he says, "First it was grasping the ideas and concepts from the novel. And then it was seeing how we could apply them to this kooky world that David Ives has set for us and then seeing how this world morphs into something that the audience wasn't expecting and Thomas wasn't expecting."
The Dallas native who returned to Texas after a directing fellowship at Berkeley in California, is a graduate of the University of Minnesota's theater program, which is where he met classmate Rodenburg. Boyd thought it was a good idea to have both of them work on this production .
"Brandon and Nicole both knew each other and were both funny and smart. And those are the virtues we needed to do this play. Sexy helps, too. And then Michael had played at the Alley in Ether Dome. He's such a wonderful and charismatic actor," Boyd said.
Boyd who saw the play off Broadway before it moved to Broadway where it was a Tony nominee for Best Play, said this is a play that anyone who's been involved in theater can especially understand.
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"Venus in Fur is stuck in this wonderful metaphor of the theater," Boyd says. "Any of us who've spent time in this work spent a lot of time in audition rooms or rehearsal rooms where this play is set. He's really kind of turning it all on its head by saying: 'We don't really know where the power in the room is.'"
Despite the subject matter, Boyd says, "I don't see how anyone could be offended by it. It's got a really fun spirit to it. We're all adults here. It's strong but it's got a heart to it."
Just leave your youngest kids at home.
Venus in Fur runs October 11 through November 10 at the Alley Theatre's Neuhaus Stage, 615 Texas Avenue. 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays - Thursdays and Sundays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays .For information call 713-220-5700 or visit alleytheatre.org $26-$75.