BRATTLEBORO >> Director Josh Moyse has done it again. Venus in Fur, now playing at the Hooker Dunham Theater, exhibits his knack for selecting challenging scripts and turning them into great entertainment. The play opens on a deceptively banal note. Vanda Jordan, a brash, foul-mouthed and apparently untalented actress shows up late for an audition in a dingy NYC studio. Arrogant writer-director Thomas Novachek reluctantly allows her to read a few lines and treats Vanda dismissively when she fails to understand the allusions in his highly intellectual script and then admits that she hasn't really read it.
A thunder clap signals some kind of supernatural intercession and the actress suddenly knows the work intimately and inhabits the role so perfectly and seductively that the playwright begins to fall for her. Vanda strips down to dominatrix undergarments and enrages Thomas by telling him that his play, based on an 1870s novel by the Austrian writer whose name gave us the word "masochism," is "basically S&M porn."
In the manner of a Twilight Zone episode, this bizarre transformation unfolds before our eyes with seamless internal logic. Soon, Thomas is so infatuated that he blows off a dinner date with his rich fianceé about whom Vanda is mysteriously knowledgeable. Comedy and drama are interwoven as her searing cynicism and jaded but powerful sexuality erode his identity. "Dominate me!," finally screams the playwright/director as Thomas assumes the subservient role of his protagonist, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch.
Such demanding material requires great talent, and casting was one of the biggest challenges faced by Moyse. "Both roles had to be played by very strong actors. After going through the rehearsal process I am certain that I could not have found actors who were better suited for either role," said the director. Indeed Xoe Perra and Will Howell are brilliant in their depictions of Vanda and Thomas, mastering the lightning repartee and rapidly shifting identities that make the David Ives script so riveting. When asked about his selection of Venus in Fur, Moyse responds, "What drew me to this play was the balance of humor and insight into woman/man relations. It is rare that a play has such a strong balance of drama and comedy." And Venus supports his vision for Shoot The Moon Company: "I want Shoot the Moon to stay nimble, meaning that we are able to produce plays, original work and adaptations of the highest quality possible. After last year's success of our adaptation of "Dracula," it is very satisfying to produce a Broadway play and also have it also be enthusiastically received."
Venus in Fur continues this Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Brattleboro's Hooker Dunham Theater. Tickets are $12 and available online shootthemoon.brownpapertickets.com/ or at the Hooker-Dunham Box Office, 139 Main Street.