Ensemble Theatre finishes this season with “Venus in Fur,” the David Ives-penned hothouse of a play that joyously blurs the line between actor and role playing, befitting a story that takes as its inspiration the 1870 novel of the same name (minus the plural letter s) by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. (Yes, that’s where we get the word Masochism.)
After the large cast and inventive sets of “Woyzeck,” Ensemble is seeing out the season with that most modern of set-ups: two people in a room, and a relationship that changes completely over the course of its runtime.
“I think two-character pieces have an interesting place in theater,” says Artistic Director Jonathan Fox, who has hired Andrew Barnicle to direct. “You get to watch these characters change, and often in these plays we watch them change over the course of months or years. But this is in real time, and we’ll watch the character change over 90 minutes.”
David Ives is the same playwright behind the popular short-play revue “All in the Timing,” which has had productions at SBCC in 2007, Laguna Blanca School in 2010, OjaiYes in 2012 and Ensemble Theatre back in 2006. And “The Liar,” his hilarious version of a 17th-century French farce, helped close the Alhecama Theater era of the company before the big move to the New Vic. Although these three examples have little in common in subject matter, “David Ives’ verbal wit is always apparent,” says Mr. Fox. “He’s a very clever writer.”
At first Mr. Ives was going to write an adaptation of Von Sacher-Masoch’s original novel, a story within a story, about Severin, a man so in love with one Wanda von Dunajew that he allows himself to be her slave, a situation that first befuddles her until she takes to it with enthusiasm. However, Mr. Ives was displeased with his result and updated the story, creating his own story within a story: a theater writer-director Thomas (Bruce Turk), who is casting for his own adaptation of Von Sacher-Masoch’s story and cannot find an actress to play Wanda. That is until Vanda (Annie Abrams) arrives, and despite her vulgar and unschooled behavior, is exactly what Thomas wants – he just doesn’t know it yet. “The most unlikely candidate,” as Mr. Ives called her in an interview, pretty much forces her audition. And without his male actor, Thomas takes it on himself to run lines as Severin. One might guess, with an original text such as this, what happens to Thomas and his control of the situation.
Ms. Abrams returns to Ensemble after having played Clea in Theresa Rebeck’s “The Scene” in 2009. She played something similar in that play – the ingenue that morphed into a femme fatale, and with delicious comic timing.
Bruce Turk is new to Ensemble, but comes with an extensive résumé working with Julie Taymor on Broadway and working 15 productions at San Diego’s Old Globe Shakespeare company. However, he is tied to the company: Mr. Turk played in a production of “A Dolls’ House” back in 1995 that Jonathan Fox directed.
“This season has been great,” Mr. Fox says. “We’ve presented material that was unusual yet fascinating.”
While this is technically the end of the subscription season, Ensemble is adding a summer show, the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical “Tell Me on a Sunday.”
“Venus in Fur”
When: 8 p.m. Thursday, June 11-Sunday June 28 (2 and 7 p.m. for Sunday shows)
Where: The New Vic, 33 W. Victoria St.
Information: (805) 965-5400, www.etcsb.org