“It had a deep, ancient feel about it,” says director Seth Allen, describing his reaction when he first read the script for Venus in Fur, the current production of the Verona Studios. “There is something in it that is also in ancient Greek tragedy.”
The play, which chronicles the changing interplay between two characters, tells the story of “power in relationships,” Allen says. It especially shows how quickly and unexpectedly they shift.
Written by contemporary American playwright David Ives, Venus in Fur ran on Broadway in 2011, where it was nominated for the Tony Award for best play. It came to Portland Center Stage for a successful run in 2013 and is now being produced across the nation.
“I find it captivating,” says Deborah Bond, who, along with Randall Tosh, produces Venus in Fur. “Underlying all the action is a farcical kind of humor.”
The action concerns the modern-day director of a stage adaptation of the 1870 novel that inspired the word masochism, as he seeks an actress with range and depth for his production. A woman arrives late to audition and seems at first to be desperately unsuitable – but that’s before the tables begin to turn.
“David Ives is one of America’s great contemporary playwrights,” says Tosh, “he’s such a smart storyteller.”
The Verona Studio has 60-seats, and occupies an area that was originally part of the “backstage” of the original Opera House, a space where Sarah Berhardt, Samuel Clemens and Susan B. Anthony once breathed and trod. Over the years it has housed a dinner theater, a repertory theater and an improv-comedy group.
Now the Verona Studio inhabits it, intending to bring “innovative, challenging” theatrical work “that will touch audiences emotionally,” Bond says. Plans are being made to produce plays by Sam Shepard, Samuel Beckett and Anton Chekhov at the Verona, and, if all goes well, the company may mount four productions a year.
According to Allen, Verona plans to focus on small-cast productions, innovative staging and strong scripts.
“Our goal,” says Tosh, “is to focus on plays which might not fill a 150-seat house, but which are good enough and important enough to be presented in Salem.”
The curtain rises at 9 p.m. for Venus in Fur, a nod to the producer’s belief that audiences deserve the experience of coming to downtown Salem for a nice, leisurely meal before taking in the theater.
“We hope to provide Salem with a kind of intimacy that you can only get in a small venue,” Allen says. “In an intimate theater like this there is an energy in the space between audience and actors that can become very charged very quickly. To me there’s nothing more exciting.”
“Most importantly,” Tosh adds, “we want our audiences to leave our performance with an appreciation of the power of live theater.”
Venus in Fur
Written by David Ives
Directed by Seth Allen
September 18, 19, 20, 25, 26, 27
& October 2,3,4
The Verona Studio
Reed Opera House
189 Liberty Street NE, Suite 215
Intended For Mature Audiences