Goodman Theatre. By David Ives. Directed by Joanie Schultz. With Amanda Drinkall, Rufus Collins. 1hr 40mins; no intermission.
Theater review by Kris Vire
Chicago native David Ives is a deft theatrical adapter, as demonstrated last season in his renderings of Corneille’s The Liar and Molière’s The School for Lies, seen at Writers Theatre and Chicago Shakespeare Theater respectively. What Ives does in his 2010 comic spin on Venus in Furs, the sexual-domination novel by 19th-century Austrian scribe Leopold von Sacher-Masoch—the man who put the M in S&M—is more inventive and no less clever.
Ives makes Venus a play within a play, though not a fully staged one. Thomas is a repressed playwright adapting Sacher-Masoch’s work for the stage, frustrated at the end of a long day auditioning actresses to play Vanda, Venus’s central female character, who accedes to the male protagonist’s wish to make him her slave. In stumbles a gawky actor who, whaddaya know, happens to be named Vanda herself; she persuades Thomas to let her read for him. As the two square off, in character and out, Vanda's initially flaky persona seems to give way to her namesake's confident sexuality; it becomes hard to tell who’s dominating who.
Requiring equal facility with sex and slapstick, Ives’s Vanda is a jackpot role; it made an overnight star of Nina Arianda, who originated the part in New York. Amanda Drinkall, the star of Joanie Schultz’s top-notch Goodman production, is no overnight success—I’ve been admiring her textured, fearless performances for years at theaters around town, especially in multiple productions at Red Tape Theatre, where she’s an ensemble member.
But this is clearly a breakout opportunity, and Drinkall makes the most of it, clocking hairpin turns from sensual to screwball and mastering Vanda’s misdirection, all while strutting the stage in little more than black lingerie and ballbreaking boots. Broadway vet Rufus Collins makes a fine match, pegging Thomas’s particular brand of self-congratulatory intellectual machismo. Schultz’s zippy staging keeps perfect pace with Ives’s volley of ideas, which is no small feat. This Venus? Yeah, baby, she’s got it.