The heat is on

Venus in Fur

Is this what they mean by “casting couch”?

Is this what they mean by “casting couch”?

Photo courtesy of B Street Theatre

Venus in Fur, 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday; 5 and 9 p.m. Satuday; 2 p.m. Sunday; 6:30 p.m. Tuesday; 2 and 6:30 p.m. Wednesday; $23-$35. B Street Theatre, 2711 B Street; (916) 443-5300; Through August 11.
Rated 5.0

Much of the pleasure derived from this sexy, compact, complicated play stems from figuring out the true agenda of the two characters on stage. And we use the term “pleasure” advisedly, because playwright David Ives springs plenty of surprises in this masochistic comedy of dark intent.

It begins simply. A weary writer-director is coming off a long, fruitless day of auditions, about to head home. In comes a breathless actress, begging for a chance at the part. She says her name is the same as the character in writer-director’s script. The skeptical writer-director can’t find her name on his audition list, but he reluctantly gives her a try. She seems eerily right for the role. And she knows more about the source material (a tale of domination, submission and desire) than she initially lets on.

Disclosing more might spoil the spooky and kinky fun. Let’s just say this script (a Tony Awards nominee for Best Play in 2012) explores the degree to which the writer’s inner mind is reflected on the page, how much of herself the actress brings to the role, and the big enchilada: Who’s in charge.

Actress Dana Brooke (formerly called on to play wholesome types) draws an altogether different assignment here, and shines. Actor Tyler Pierce, a newcomer, is also excellent. Tracy Prybyla’s costumes gradually shift to black leather and studs. Director Buck Busfield raises the heat gradually—the story unfolds in linear time, with growing momentum. Ron Madonia’s lighting includes fluorescents (it’s supposed to be a cheap rehearsal space) and gathers gloom. This is not a show for kids, and you might want to consider what message you might be sending if you pick it for a first date. But it’s a captivatingly effective production—also the first opportunity in Northern California to see a production of a script that is a hot property.