Aspen Fringe Fest revives ‘Venus in Fur’ for one night at the Wheeler
If You Go …
What: ‘Venus in Fur,’ presented by Aspen Fringe Festival
Where: Wheeler Opera House
When: Sunday, March 22, 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: Wheeler box office; http://www.aspenshowtix.com; 970-920-5770
The Aspen Fringe Festival’s 2014 production of David Ives’ “Venus in Fur” generated a rare level of buzz for a limited-run play in the Roaring Fork Valley. But after its two sold-out festival performances at the Black Box Theatre last June, it was gone.
“We had to turn people away,” said Fringe Fest artistic director David Ledingham, who also plays Thomas – one of two leads in “Venus in Fur.” “It felt like such a big hit, people loved it, and I believe in the play.”
So, Ledingham is bringing it back for an encore on Sunday at the Wheeler Opera House, with his co-star Nikki Boxer reprising her quicksilver performance as Vanda, and Michael Monroney returning to direct.
The play focuses on a pompous theater director, Thomas, working on an adaption of the 19th century German novel, “Venus in Furs,” which deals with what we’d today call sadomasochism (a term named after the book’s author, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch). As Thomas complains about the shortcomings of the actresses he’s auditioned, Vanda barges in and forces him to read the script with her, and then takes on a dominant role that mirrors the relationships in the book.
It plays out as a psychosexual fable that’s as steamy as you’d expect and funnier than you’d anticipate. In last year’s production, Ledingham and Boxer both gave spot-on performances in challenging roles that keep them both on stage for an hour and forty minutes, and call for both to transform drastically by the time the curtain falls – Vanda, for example, swerves between being a ditzy actress, a fishnet-clad seductress and an enraged feminist.
“You don’t come across many plays that are so different and unique and theatrical,” Ledingham said.
It’s an intricate, many-layered work with a play-within-a-play-within-a-play structure. The 2011 Broadway production earned Tony Award nominations for Best Play and Best Actress, and has since become one of the most popular regional theater shows in the U.S. Last year, it was adapted into a film – in French – by director Roman Polanski.
Digging back into “Venus in Fur,” months after the June shows, has been illuminating for the Fringe Fest team.
“We’re uncovering more layers,” Ledingham said. “We’re seeing stuff that we didn’t even see. It has amazing depth.”
To get the play back to the stage – the Wheeler’s far bigger stage – this spring, Boxer and Ledingham ran their lines together and did seven full rehearsals with Monroney.
“I’m hoping the play will be even better,” said Ledingham, “because we’ve had all this time to mull over what worked, what didn’t quite work. I think we’ve discovered some new aspects after revisiting it.”
Fortuitously, “Venus in Fur” marked the first time that the Aspen Fringe Festival – running since 2009 – had an all-local cast and crew for its main stage show. Normally, the festival uses a mix of local and national actors and directors. But Ledingham, Boxer, and Monroney are all based in the valley. So bringing the production back for an encore eight months after its run was doable.
After the overwhelming response to it in June, Ledingham tried to get more dates for “Venus in Fur” in Aspen last summer, but couldn’t book a theater. So he looked toward this spring.
He’s hopeful a few hundred people will come out for the encore show.
“We’ve definitely captured our little audience for Fringe Fest in June, and we’ve built it,” Ledingham said. “But this is different. This is March.”
The one-night run is a benefit for the Fringe Festival, which this summer runs June 11 to 15. This year’s festival will include plays in the Black Box and dance performances in the Aspen District Theatre.
The centerpiece will be a production of Sharr White’s “The Other Place,” which had a 2013 Broadway run with Laurie Metcalf and Daniel Stern in the leads. White will be the festival’s guest playwright, and he will host readings of at least one of his new works, possibly more, according to Ledingham. White comes to Fringe on a theatrical hot streak – three of his plays have been produced on Broadway and Off-Broadway in the last three years, including “Annapurna,” which is set in a trailer in Paonia.
Robert Moses’ Kin Dance Company, based in San Francisco, will also stage a dance production for the 2015 Fringe Fest.
A reception in the Wheeler lobby following Sunday’s show will include video clips and photos of past Fringe Fests, which Ledingham was still working on Tuesday.
“It’s still coming together, as true guerilla theater does, in the last moments,” he said with a laugh. “Looking over the clips, I’m really proud of the work we’ve put out there. We’ve always focused on the language, the play, the acting – the artistic elements.”
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