Nina Arianda in Venus in Fur
(© Joan Marcus)
Nina Arianda in Venus in Fur
(© Joan Marcus)
Few theatrical performances this season have generated the kind of buzz that has accompanied Nina Arianda's turn as Vanda in Classic Stage Company's critically acclaimed production of David Ives' Venus in Fur, which is now running through March 28.

Indeed, from the moment an on-stage door swings open and Arianda appears as Vanda, a seemingly flighty actress spouting a litany of excuses for being late to an audition for a play based on the classic S&M novel Venus in Furs, to the work's shocking final moment, the actress' startling performance simply mesmerizes audiences.

Her work is all the more impressive since the 25-year-old performer just recently graduated from NYU's graduate acting program and has only a few professional stage credits. Except for a brief period where she wanted to be an opera conductor, acting has been her goal, says Arianda, who started taking children's theater classes at age four. "This is the role I've waited for!" she states with conviction. "The most appealing thing about it, and what makes the role an actress' dream, is Vanda's unpredictability."

Arianda -- who grew up in New Jersey in a Ukrainian family where she learned English by watching Sesame Street -- admits she's well-suited to the role of the tempestuous Vanda. "Since I can't escape myself, there is a lot of me in her," she says. "However, onstage, parts of me are more amplified. I fell in love with her from the get-go and said, 'I've got to do this.' I read it with such passion and conviction that I got her. But what's interesting is that through exploring the character, I've learned so much about myself."

Arianda read for director Walter Bobbie and Ives only once, rather late in the show's audition process. "Five hours later, I got a call from my agent!" she recalls. Arianda has long been a fan of Ives, which made getting the role even more gratifying. "There is always a jolt of surprise in his plays, but Venus in Fur impressed me in a different way. Things go along one way, and then boom, they're off in another direction. That makes it fascinating and helps us arrive at the various transitions in different ways."

Nina Arianda and Wes Bentley in Venus in Fur
(© Joan Marcus)
Nina Arianda and Wes Bentley in Venus in Fur
(© Joan Marcus)
Rehearsals were an intimate process, often with just Bobbie, Ives, Arianda, and co-star Wes Bentley in the room. "Walter's so incredibly intuitive that there weren't that many times when he said 'Do this, do that,' but rather, he gave us a push this way or that way." That process has led to a great on-stage collaboration, she adds. "Just as the chemistry and trust between Wes and I grew with each rehearsal, it continues to grow with each performance. Now, we feel very secure with each other, which allows us to really go for it. Wes' great gift as Thomas is how he lets Vanda fly and, when necessary, reins her in. As Vanda, I want to see how far I can push. We've made it into a game where we feed off each other."

As Arianda points out, audiences have to really pay attention to the play, since there are many subtleties and double-entendres, all of which occur at breakneck speed. "It does move quickly," she notes. "Sometimes, Wes and I find ourselves mid-show wondering how we got to that point. David's written the play in such a way that it never becomes stale. You go out, the light hits you, you act, and suddenly it becomes real. I get to escape myself for 90 minutes. Afterward, I often say, 'Where did that come from?'"

There has been some talk of a Broadway transfer, but even if the run ends next month as announced, Arianda admits that Venus has been a once-in a-lifetime experience. "I'll always consider this my moment," she says.