David Ives is a name not foreign to anyone involved in theatre. His collection of one-act plays All In The Timing is a sort of bible for high school drama students. Razor-sharp wit and outlandish, yet grounded scenarios make it so all the actors need to provide is—well, timing.
The Boston College Dramatic Society's production of Venus in Fur, the 2010 full-length play by David Ives, began as a typical Ivesian comedy. Place a well-meaning average Joe in a room with a woman with a big personality and watch hijinks ensue. Our protagonist is Thomas, a man who refuses to cheat on his wife while writing and directing an adaptation of the 1870 novel Venus in Furs, which is, for all intents and purposes, 19th century Austrian pornography in prose.
Enter Vanda, a bombastic, uneducated actress who intends to get the part of Wanda, the temptress upon which Thomas projects his own taboo desires. Throughout the play, however, Vanda proves to have an ulterior motive: an agenda concerning Thomas himself. Sexual tension, power struggles, and two less than exemplary English accents characterize the production.
The set is beautiful and minimalistic. An over-organized desk, an elegant divan, and a Dunkin’ Donuts box next to a Mr. Coffee set the tone: we should be suspicious. The lighting complements the action on stage beautifully, never missing a cue.
Ives uses his reputation as a humorist to trick you into thinking that this play is another one of his lighthearted comedies. It isn’t until three quarters into the play that you realize why you haven’t been laughing. Yes, partly because the actors rush the jokes and struggle with articulation. But it’s also because the "jokes" are only funny through Thomas’ eyes. Through his Weinsteinian undertones, Thomas slowly becomes more and more of a sleaze throughout the play, and in the last half hour, where Vanda finally hijacks the story, we’re left wondering why we rooted for such a perverted chauvinist for a whole hour.
So by the end of the play, when Vanda asserts her dominance as the highly intelligent, vindictive, and powerful woman she is, I felt frustrated that I had to sit through an hour and a half of excessive, indulgent, pornographic prose from Thomas in order to reach this point. But this is precisely what the play had intended all along. I felt something I hadn’t before: true disgust at the thinly veiled misogyny that allows men to manipulate women in the entertainment industry. And the more I think about the play, the more I respect director Michael Quinn, MCAS ’19, and his team for deceiving the audience into delivering his urgent message in the most subliminal way possible.
Venus in Fur is not a perfect play. It drags, it falls flat, and it makes you roll your eyes. But the conclusion it reaches, and the way it makes its message permeate your mind, is quite a feat.