Lights up on a brilliant white loft in what we are to assume is New York. It’s raining. The set is beautiful. Within moments we learn as the audience, that this is a play about casting a play. It is a play between a Director who has sat through some hideous auditions (though maybe he is the only one who thought they were hideous) and an actress who is several hours late to her audition. What unfolds is a confusing tale about power: a tale wherein we are consistently unsure who the master is and who is the servant.
Focused on the playwright who is attempting to adapt Venus in Furs to the stage (the book that is solely responsible for the term masochism), this play attempts to ask the audience what power really looks like. This play postures several tools of control to its audience: punctuality, given roles, financial need, physical position, the written word, clothing, lack of clothing, and even tone of voice. For example did showing up several hours late give Vanda (the actress in question) the upper hand in dealing with Thomas Novacheck (playwright in question)? Or did being the playwright give Novacheck all the power? Did Vanda take power back by lowering her tone of voice to a gravelly sexual nature? Did Novacheck put on a costume piece to state his formal position? Did Vanda find the perfect way to hold her hands so that Novacheck couldn’t help but succumb to her?
In this meandering play, we get to know two strangers and wonder about their connections to each other. We get to understand that art has a power over people as we sit complacent in this room watching two people fall inextricably in lust while they read lines from a play. We get to be the voyeur. And in this case, we get to like it. We get to leave the theater wondering if we really knew who was in charge… and liking it. We get to leave and say, “let’s talk about this.”
I particularly enjoyed watching the power balance shift from scene to scene in this expertly directed play. Shana Cooper as a director has single handedly won me over. This is a play about arc. It is about knowing where the chess pieces move and who is gaining control over the landscape. Shana Cooper knew the very line where each actor took control over the other person. And when she needed it to be vague? It was. Expertly acted by the lovely Gillian Willams and Michael Tisdale, I couldn’t have asked for more nuance. They were so in tune with one another it was absolutely lovely to watch.
Above all, I loved sitting in the audience and asking myself this one question: “Should I be offended right now?”
As a self-proclaimed feminist and sexual liberalist, throughout the play I regularly wondered if the blanket statements made by the play’s author David Ives were offensive. But I could never come back with a clear response to that question… even after several days of reverie. I found the lack of response in this case to be absolutely delightful. I adore that I was slightly turned on, slightly guilty, a little confused at times, and pretty much entirely at the beck and call of the stage. I was in their power.
And I must say that says a lot. I typically hate plays that are about… plays. I find it to be a little too “pandering” to the theater world. I often feel that plays about plays are written for all the theatre people in the audience… and this play managed to get me over that feeling and into a much more complex mode of thought.
I would highly recommend seeing this play on a hot date. And then having drinks in a dark corner afterwards and talk about what power looks like to each of you.
Written by David Ives
Directed by Shana Cooper
Starring Gillian Williams and Michael Tisdale
Through March 9th // Seattle Repertory Theater // Tickets $32-70, Seniors & Students $22, 25 & Under $12