Back from Portland having indulged in a weekend of champagne cocktails, Powell’s bookstore, bathing suit shopping, and shows. We saw Jeeves in Bloom @ Taproot Theatre before the rendezvous south and The Lost Boy on Saturday, which was deemed lackluster and its second act abandoned for other nightly revels. But the chief destination of our pilgrimage was to witness Portland Center Stage’s regional premiere of Venus in Fur by David Ives. I came across this Tony award winning play last summer and it has climbed high in my esteem since- perhaps one of the few plays read 4-5 times that I haven’t auditioned/performed. While the play itself is no literary sensation- I’m not sure if Ives himself has entirely unraveled the comedic mystery he’s spun- the role of Vanda is gold. Nina Arianda’s broadway inception of the character won her the 2012 Tony Award for Best Actress. It is my biased belief in the mastery of this role onstage will prove to be a break out for many young women in the next couple of years as Venus disseminates through the regional theatre circuit.
And it does take mastery. The shifts between Vanda the beleaguered yet brassy actress and Vanda the refined and sensual madame are instantaneous and require a level of classical grace and uncanny comedic timing. She moves her director, her lover, her captor to artistic, sexual, and personal frustrations at a moment’s notice, holding the audience in sway. While Ginny Myers Lee charmed as the elevated Vanda Duyanev, she didn’t exactly inspire the scrappy hustler of a NY actress that I so connected to in the script. The build towards the helenic ending felt more like an old staircase rather than a smooth ascendance as Vanda exacts her revenge.
But revenge of what? At the fault of either playwright, director, or actors, Thomas Novachek as the antagonist remains a little muddy. At the top of page 1, he really is a sweet guy, though exasperated at the current crop of insufficient actresses. “Our Vanda has to be out there.” And his described relationship to his fiancee, he’s a doormat. Is this man truly our villan, our masochistic slave, our pentheus from which the Bacchae must inflict their wrath?