Masochism Tango

American Conservatory Theater’s masochistic backstage comedy isn’t exactly hard-hitting. My review is on KQED Arts.

Brenda Meaney and Henry Clarke in Venus in Fur. Photo by Kevin Berne.

Brenda Meaney and Henry Clarke in Venus in Fur. Photo by Kevin Berne.

THEATER REVIEW: Masochistic Audition Comedy Is a Kinky Trifle

Venus in Fur
Through April 13
American Conservatory Theater
415 Geary Street
San Francisco, CA

Show #29 of 2014, attended March 26.

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  1. Ponder

    4 / 5 / 2014 10:39 am

    I need to rant.

    Can I rant here? I don’t know where to go and I like your blog and the way you think about theater.

    I’m so frustrated by this production, and with the proliferation of contemporary plays congratulating themselves on having progressive and/or subversive gender politics when they merely reiterate, reanimate and reify sexist norms without any level of critical awareness or interrogation. This play had male privilege written all over it and I want to scream from the rooftops of ACT:

    Inversion is not subversion.
    Regression is not transgression.
    It isn’t enough to throw us a bone, to let us hold the whip for a moment and see how it feels. Where is the play that shows us, men and women, the universal terror and isolation of a society in we all must accept the rule of “rule or be ruled”? Why can’t we see a “steamy study of the erotics of power” like that on stage at ACT? Or anywhere?

    This play is a cheap trick. It’s a mild turn-on, and it’s technically clever and well-crafted enough to make you believe that sometimes it’s your intellect getting stimulated. But it isn’t nearly as smart as it thinks it is.

    And if you say (not you, Sam! the Bigger You, the You Comprised of the Many), “well it’s based on the novel, and it’s a classic novel and classics are an unquestionable good” then why re-set the novel’s quaint and ridiculous 1870’s sex war in 2014? Why is this even considered relevant?

    Most importantly: Vanda frequently lapsed into miniature protestations about how sexist the play was– offering a tiny glimmer of hope that Ives might rise to a moment of self-awareness and actual interrogation of the titillation he was selling.

    Alas…that never happened. I’m not sure he’s capable, or interested.

    Actual critiques of patriarchal sexism aren’t about who dominates whom; it isn’t about who holds the whip, who gets to be on top, who screws and who does the screwing. The sexual politics of the play-within-a-play and the play itself aren’t about whose heels crush which neck one minute to the next. We are all slaves in a world where sex dominates rather than liberates. It’s the roles themselves and their dehumanizing separation of people into vectors of power that should be questioned, not their standard gender-based assignment.

    “Venus in Fur” By David Ives is sexist not because of the relationships inside the play, shift as they might, but because of the point of view of the playwright. In his creation, the woman exists only and always as the object of the man’s erotic fantasies, desires, and terrors.

    Only, ever, and always the object of the male gaze. And nothing else.

    I’m glad you saw through the trifling nature of this play.

    I wish more people did.



  2. 4 / 5 / 2014 10:40 pm

    You can rant here anytime you like!

    And yeah, I hear you, for sure. “Trifling” is a good word for it.


  3. Ponder

    4 / 8 / 2014 11:30 am

    Thanks! I always appreciate the permission to rant. I….well, I have opinions. my sister says I should start a blog but I think after two years no one would hire me. 🙂

    At any rate, thanks for the space and also as always being so thoughtful and content-oriented. I see so many theater writers focus solely on execution, or question the “relevance” of the content without interrogating or describing its essence.

    Always a relief to see something more interesting! -pg





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