Arizona Theater Company's Venus in Fur: So Engaging, Even You Couldn't Ruin It
Dear Trio of People Sitting on the Aisle of the Third Row on Opening Night of Arizona Theater Company's Venus in Fur,
I'm certain you don't care, but you very nearly destroyed what would have otherwise been a rare evening of theater for those of us seated near you. Your nonstop chatter through this impressive production distracted everyone in the first seven rows from what we were there to see: David Ives' Tony-nominated play, beautifully acted by Michael Tisdale and Gillian Williams and expertly directed by Shana Cooper.
Here's a bit of news you clearly haven't heard before: Going to the theater and watching a play is not the same as sitting on your Barcalounger and watching television. When you attend a theater production and talk to one another throughout the performance, the other people in the audience can actually hear you.
It's probably not nice of me to assume that people who behave badly at the theater don't care about the provenance of intelligent and complicated plays, but I'll suggest you skip this next paragraph about Ives' adaptation, all the same. It's based on Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's 1870 novel Venus in Furs, about a European nobleman named Severin who indulges his carnal desire for whippings and humiliation by becoming a sex slave to his mistress. The novel was adapted by Ives in 2010, and ran for seven months on Broadway. (That's a street in New York City, where Equity actors sometimes break character and shout from the stage at asshole audience members who behave inappropriately. Google "Patty Lupone Gypsy rant" or "Neil Patrick Harris Hedwig heckling," if you don't believe me.)
And since you were much too busy chatting with one another to follow the story up onstage, I'll recap it for you: Thomas is a present-day Broadway playwright who has adapted the Sacher-Masoch novel, and we meet him at auditions for the role of Wanda. An actress, named Vanda, shows up hours late and demands that Thomas allow her to read. At first, he's reluctant — he's done for the day and on his way to meet his fiancée for dinner — but Vanda forges on, ignoring his objections. Her reading is brilliant, and Thomas becomes captivated by her, finally agreeing to Vanda's demands that he read with her, and he "becomes" Severin. We are watching (and by "we," I mean everyone in the theater but you three, who were otherwise engaged) a trio of entertainments, all at once: a director coaching an actress in becoming her character in a play; the people in the Sacher-Masoch novel; and, for those of us who weren't nonstop gabbing, the stunning bonus of watching two talented actors make this complicated juggling act look easy.
Certainly your running monologue about the play (if that's what you were talking about) was more interesting to you than the brilliance with which Ives shifts the identity of his characters, and the slow transfer of power back and forth between them, sometimes within a single line of dialogue. I wonder if any of your endless chuckling and muttering to one another was about the magnificent, tatty realism of scenic designer Sibyl Wickersheimer's city loft rehearsal hall, or about Harmony Arnold's sturdy, versatile costume design? Did you notice the skill with which sound and lighting designers Geoff Korf, T. Greg Squires, and Robertson Witmer created the thunder and lightning that punctuates so many significant moments in Ives' dark comedy? Because you didn't appear to.
Although you missed a really wonderful production of an estimable play, and potentially ruined it for those seated around you, you're fortunate: Had this been a two-act, I'd have cornered you in the lobby at intermission and told you to knock it off. I thought about hurling my pen at the backs of your heads to get you to shut the hell up, but I throw like a girl, and was certain I'd hit one of the poor slobs seated next to you, instead.
I should probably apologize for yelling at you about your lack of manners as we exited the lobby of the theater, but I can't bring myself to — particularly since you seemed to find it so hilarious that anyone would object to your oafish behavior. Instead, I will congratulate you on having proven that ATC's production of Venus in Fur is so well-built and engaging that not even a squawking pile of asshole at the front of the house can entirely distract an audience from enjoying it.
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