After a brief hiatus, Nina Arianda and Hugh Dancy are once again squaring off against one another in David Ives’ Venus in Fur, now playing at the Lyceum Theatre on Broadway.
The acting duo’s time together — which began last fall at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre — has served the production well. Both actors continue to give highly charged emotional and often delectably comic performances, which anyone seeing the show for the first time will find revelatory. Concurrently, the actors’ work has deepened and been sharpened in ways that make a return visit to the show an immensely rewarding experience.
Theatergoers who have previously seen the show will notice the new layers to Dancy’s performance as soon as the show begins, revealing his character, playwright/director Thomas, mid-screed about the experiences he’s just had auditioning actresses for a play he’s written that’s based on what some consider to be an erotic classic, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs. There’s an embittered and incredibly commanding edge that Dancy has given these first few moments, which powerfully positions the character for the remainder of the play.
Similarly, Arianda (who first essayed the role at Classic Stage Company) has gracefully enhanced some of the more childish qualities of her character, a frazzled actress who arrives — several hours late — to audition for Thomas and the role of Vanda, an aristocrat who becomes the dominating mistress to a nobleman.
Once Vanda — the actress and character curiously share the same name — has begun to read from Thomas’ script, Arianda’s detailed, and often hysterical, work early on makes her transformation into a 19th-century woman of incredible grace, noble bearing, and cleverness, all the more surprising to both theatergoers and Thomas.
Not only have the performers tweaked their work during the show’s opening moments, but there’s improvements throughout the piece, as Ives’ script shifts between the realities of the rehearsal room (designed in exquisite detail by John Lee Beatty and lit by designer Peter Kaczorwoski so that realism becomes marvelously atmospheric) and the play-within-a-play.
For example, at one point, Dancy’s Thomas looks like a dewy-eyed deer as he stares at Vanda. Within seconds, with just a minor shift in body language, the look belongs not to the playwright, but to the enthralled nobleman. It’s a moment that’s sexy, touching, and superlatively creepy, gorgeously encapsulating the experience of Venus in Fur.