Bentonville’s 21c to Stage “Venus In Fur”

Bentonville’s 21c to Stage “Venus In Fur”
Courtesy of ArkansasStaged

Courtesy of ArkansasStaged

Things are set to get pretty sexy at Bentonville’s 21c this weekend.

A staged reading of Venus In Fur will take place at 21c May 15 at 7 p.m. will be hosted by the minds behind ArkansasStaged, a group of theatre artists who host staged readings of plays throughout Northwest Arkansas. Entry is free, but there is a suggested donation of $3.

The plot of the play, by David Ives, is about writer-director Thomas Novachek opening a new play in New York City. The play-within-the-play is a theatrical adaptation of the 1870 novel “Venus in Furs” by the Austrian author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. It opens with his frustration of the women auditioning for the lead role, Wanda von Dunayev, all of whom he deems inadequate. Then waltzes in Vanda Jordan, a brash, vulgar unschooled actress — who Novachek instantly despises — and convinces him to let her audition, and she somehow has a full copy of the script.

Novachek decides to give her a shot and assumes the role of the other character, Severin von Kushemski, and soon a new power dynamic begins to unfold between the two characters as the audition goes on.

“It’s a play that appeals to such a broad range of audiences,” said Cole Wimpee, “Venus In Fur” director. “I view it as an erotic thriller, it’s really about the power dynamics between gender. That really drives the piece, this kind of shifting power game. It keeps it sexy and keeps the audience guessing who’s in control at all times.”

To up the sexy factor, lingerie from Eureka Spring’s The Art of Romance has donated a couple costumes for the production. Due to the sexual content of the play, it’s considered to be for adults only.

The cast consists of local theatre enthusiasts Maggie Ferran as Vanda Jordan and Jason Shipman as Thomas Novachek. The two have been in numerous local productions, and Ferran performs with the long-form improv group Rodeo Book Club.

“They’re both straight, serious actors but they both have a ton of experience in comedic improv and comedy,” Wimpee said. “It’s really fun working with them, because they keep things light but when it comes to the work they’re very serious about it.”

The production will be one of many recently put on by ArkansasStaged, which is led by Laura Shatkus. The organization works to group up local actors and put on staged readings — meaning script-in-hand and minimal production — throughout Northwest Arkansas, such as Crystal Bridges, Fayetteville Underground and St. Paul Episcopal Church.

“I love the sexual power play that goes on in the play,” Shatkus said. “It’s really fun to watch a woman come on stage and shatter all the expectations we have for her when we first encounter her. We expect her to be something else and the ground shifts under our feet as the story progresses.”

With ArkansasStaged, Shatkus said she’s motivated in telling stories about women and minorities and voices that are underrepresented in Northwest Arkansas.

“I really hope the audience is blessed with a whole bunch of fun questions that they want to talk about on the way to their car,” Shatkus said. “I like that the play is very tricky. It’s not an easy play to understand. I think there’s room for more talk about freedom of sexuality.”

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