A desperate female actor rushes into a rehearsal room, late, and tries to persuade an uninterested director to let her audition for his play. Vanda appears flaky, a simpleton and an embodiment of everything Thomas, a frustrated playwright, hates.
The ill-fated audition is for a role in a stage adaptation of the 1870 novel "Venus in Furs," from which we inherited the term sadomasochism, and which Thomas describes as a "great love story." Despite the power imbalance in the audition room, Vanda is sassy enough to challenge the director's arrogance. "Basically, it's S-and-M porn," she says.
That's the entry point for David Ives' "Venus in Fur," a two-person genre-busting play that opens Salt Lake Acting Company's new season. The show, which opened off-Broadway in 2010, earned a Best Actress Tony Award for Nina Arianda, who called the role "one of the strongest female parts that I've ever read." It's the fourth of Ives' plays to be produced by SLAC, after "Polish Joke," "Mere Mortals" and a collection of one-act plays, "All in the Timing."
Director Tracy Callahan describes the provocative play, which explores themes of power, masochism and seduction, as a "sexy comedy." "I love the unraveling of the storyline and how it is revealed to the audience in a clever way," she said of Ives' play-within-a-play structure, which leaps between the contemporary setting of the rehearsal room to the 19th-century world of the novel.
Marza Warsinske, 24, relishes the challenge of portraying the layered, complex lead female character in the play's regional premiere.
"Vanda is a lot more than she seems," Warsinske says. "She comes into the room as a very desperate actress having a very terrible day, and we get to go on a surprising ride with her."
Callahan adds: "Just when you think you know what she is, she's able to literally pull something out of her bag and put it on and become something else."
Warsinske worked with Callahan while studying theater at Weber State University, before moving to the Northwest and then Los Angeles to focus on film and stage work.
The character spends most of her time onstage in her underwear, which Warsinske says is the least of her worries. "It's appropriate for the character and important for the story. Her physical vulnerability goes along with the emotional vulnerability of the story."
In rehearsals, Patrick Kintz, 33, has worked to uncover the layers of his character, the frustrated director/playwright. Kintz, who was raised in New York, moved to Utah to study theater at Brigham Young University and Utah Valley University.
The actor describes his character as desperate in his own way, and even more of a misogynist than he initially appears. "It's interesting to dive into that and attempt to embody that," Kintz says. "That has been a challenge, because I am not that way."
The play doesn't let the audience breathe. "Just when you think there's going to be a lull, it jumps to a new level of energy," Kintz says. "You never really know who these people really are. You get to see so many different sides of them, and then at the end, you're left to kind of make a decision about what just happened, and why it is important for you as an audience member to have just seen that. It gives you excitement and a rush."
'Venus in Fur'
Salt Lake Acting Company presents David Ives' two-character play, which promoters label a "kinky comedy."
When • Previews Wednesday and Thursday, Sept. 25-26; opens Friday, Sept. 27; runs through Nov. 3; Wednesday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, 1 and 6 p.m.
Where • Salt Lake Acting Company, 168 W. 500 North, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $15-$42; student, senior and 30-and-under discounts, at 801-363-7522; saltlakeactingcompany.org