Careful, you could put an eye out with that.
Photo by Drew Tampe
There's nothing new under the sun, even a fascination for bondage, discipline, and masochism.
"The whole 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon is simply the latest resurgence of a deeply embedded psychological impulse that is probably as old as the cave man," says Joel Sass, director of the Jungle's latest show, Venus in Fur.
The play takes it title from Leopold von Sacher-Masoch infamous novella. The play centers on a director looking for an actress to play the key role in his own adaptation of the book. As they act out scenes from the play, the nature of their own world and relationship shifts until it is not clear who is the dominatrix and who is the slave.
"The novel is kind of cool, and back in the early Mary Worth Theater days I looked at doing my own adaptation of it as more of a camp burlesque version," Sass says.
The stage version comes from the mind of David Ives, known for his innovative short plays that often look at the nature of perception and reality. Sass really wanted to be the first to present the work in the Twin Cities, even before it went off to Broadway. "We stalked the script. We made ourselves such a nuisance that we got the rights to it," he says.
The relationship between master and slave certainly has a resonance in the theater, one that Ives builds on throughout the piece. "The psychological dominance and submission in the novel is reflected in the play by the relationship between a director and an actor," Sass says. "If you are watching the play with any degree of attention it is clear this actress so desperate for the part may have another agenda. In a nutshell, it is an excellent example of a story where art imitates life, and then ends up taking over your life."
For the two characters, Sass has employed Anne Sundberg and Peter Christian Hansen. For the auditions, he brought in a number of actors, paired them up, and had them read the whole play out loud. "There were a couple of casts that I could have been very, very happy with," he says.
Along with their talent, Sass was drawn to the actors' immediate ability to get into the messy heart of the play. "They were able to access things right away. I couldn't wait three weeks for people to be comfortable with x,y, and z. You have to be able to push it further," he says. Though the work is a product of the stiff and proper 19th century, that doesn't mean the book doesn't have its message for today. That's a topic Ives is able to explore. "We think there are certain sexual politics that are antique, but they are still present in our culture in some marriages or in some professional relationships. It's really interesting to watch to see who achieves dominance by asserting their power, or who seems to achieve dominance by acquiescence," Sass says.
"Anyone who works in the theater -- no matter the gender of the director -- there is a moment where the actor cries. Do you give in to placate them?" Sass says.
"In this particular situation, you have a director with a fiancé at home, and an actor desperate for work. There is an undeniable presence of sexual energy. It is not always clear who is aware of it, but they are actively throwing gas on the fire," Sass says.
In the end, Venus in Fur "is edgy. It's not a trip to a grotesque S&M dungeon. It's not a spookhouse play to luridly arouse or gratuitously shock. It is so much more sophisticated and sexier than that," Sass says.
Venus in Fur
Friday through March 16
The Jungle Theater
2951 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis
For tickets and information, call 612.822.7063 or visit online.