Probably not the kind of foreplay you’re thinking about. The “foreplay” I participated in last night was an open, audience feedback rehearsal prior to the March 19 official debut of “Venus in Fur” at NC Stage Company’s intimate black box theater in downtown Asheville. The evening was exciting and there was sexual tension, but, alas, no one but the cast was involved in that.
Having responded to an online invitation to “All Writers, Bloggers–Legitimate Hipsters,” I expected I might be the only senior citizen in our young, creative town in attendance. Instead, a quick glance at the crowd enjoying snacks in the lobby as I entered confirmed that the twenty or so of us represented a true cross-section of demographics—as any good theater should expect to attract. I’m pleased about this, since as much as I dreaded the possibility of being the dinosaur in the crowd, all too often I find myself enjoying a fantastic local performance experience wondering, “Where are the young people tonight?” Maybe it was the advance write-up about this play that cut across the ages.
David Ives’ Broadway hit, “Venus in Fur,” set in modern New York City, is a two-person play; Vanda, played here by Hannah Sloat (recently appearing on Broadway in the Tony Award winning production of War Horse) and Thomas, played by Willie Repoley (a local actor who has worked in theaters across the country and is Artistic Director of Immediate Theatre Project, which is presenting this Venus.)
Vanda has her eyes on the lead role in Venus in Fur, an adaptation of the classic erotic novel by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. Her late arrival and rather bold behavior, which defies audition protocol, leaves Thomas less than impressed. But her superb reading of the role turns the session into an electrifying game of cat and mouse as the lines blur between script and reality, seduction and power, love and sex. On Broadway the show was hailed as “seriously smart and very funny” by The New York Times, and has been described as “a laugh-out-loud study of the politics of sex and power that’s guaranteed to charm and mesmerize.”
Our mini-audience had been asked to take seats in all three sections of the theater, so we could give our feedback from all physical perspectives at the conclusion of the partial rehearsal. As we bloggers and–er, hipsters–watched, Director Angie Flynn-McIver put the two seasoned actors through day one of their second week of rehearsals. I was thoroughly impressed by the full, open commitment it takes to breathe highly nuanced, three dimensional life into the flat text of a printed script. Every aspect of vocal and facial expression, gesture, location, and timing is considered, discussed, and sculpted – back and forth among those on stage (including the director on the sidelines) vignette by vignette, over and over, until everyone’s gut agrees, “This is what we want for our audience.”
The concept of an open rehearsal with audience input—kind of live, vs virtual social networking—was brand new at NC Stage. I think our small, but diverse group of avid theater-lovers did ourselves proud. I hope the cast, crew, and management agree that the specifics offered for their consideration spoke volumes about the literary/performance art sophistication of the youngest and eldest among us.