It’s finally cooling down outside, but expect the heat to rise on stage when Liminal Playhouse presents “Venus in Fur” by David Ives.
“It’s very funny, it’s very sexy … it’s a little scary at times,” says director Tony Prince.
The acclaimed play premiered in New York City in 2010, in a Tony Award-winning production, and has enjoyed a healthy life in regional theaters. The action centers around Thomas, a fiery playwright and director who has spent a long day looking for the lead in his new play.
At the top of the show, he laments there is no one who can play the lead: “No sexy/articulate young women with some classical training and a particle of brain in their skulls,” he proclaims, just before lightning crashes and in walks Vanda, an actor who seems like a ditzy young woman at first.
The relationship becomes much more complicated, and the power dynamic between men and women is explored through the characters’ interaction.
Like most two-person shows, it’s a challenging work for the artists involved, and “Venus” has a special set of hurdles for the actors, who must portray their characters and portray their characters portraying characters.
“There’s a lot of shifting around in terms of personality, it’s very meta — very multi-tiered and multi-level,” Prince tells Insider.
It’s the exact type of play one might expect from Liminal Playhouse, whose mission is in their name — explore the in-between states of being. Describing his decision to produce “Venus,” Prince says, “It’s liminal, it’s ambiguous, it’s got lots of stuff going on. So it really stood out.”
Something else (or rather, someone) that stood out to Prince: Victoria Reibel, the actor playing Vanda, the Venus suggested by the title. Reibel is a veteran of the local stage, a graduate of Bellarmine University’s acting program, and by day she creates historical characters at the Frazier History Museum. Prince didn’t even look at any other actors.
“I didn’t audition people for this particular show. I was going to initially, but every time I read the play, I just kept picturing Victoria in it,” he says. “And I’m really not one to put people through their paces unnecessarily.”
Reibel is excited to play Vanda and bring the character to life for Louisville audiences.
“This is my role. This is a role I was born to play,” she tells Insider. “And I have taken it very seriously, and I’ve thought about every aspect to make her as well rounded as possible and as sound as possible.”
Reibel also undertook a taxing physical regimen to prepare for the role, which includes some pretty revealing clothing, as evidenced by the rehearsal and promotional pics for the show.
“I wanted her … to have a certain amount of sex appeal, but I also wanted her to be very strong,” she says, and that’s strength in more than just the metaphorical or emotional sense. “I really dialed in on my nutrition for about four months and got into a body-building style of exercise, which I found I actually really love.”
A buff look will no doubt help sell the sexiness of the play, but when the entire script centers on two people, the chemistry between actors is the real key. They have to be able to connect in a serious way, or the play is sunk. For the character of Thomas, Prince was looking for a very particular type.
“I thought, ‘Well, this guy has an awfully big tirade that’s in part ageist against younger people,’ so I thought I’d kind of like him to be somebody who can look older but can still be sexy, and you can buy with Victoria,” he says.
He considered several actors but eventually chose Gerry Rose, another familiar face from the local stage.
Reibel describes her working relationship with Rose. “In this play, it’s very intimate and very aggressive, but we trust each other, and I think we are both well in tune with who we are as people, which helps as well.”
That trust — which Reibel said extends to Prince — is important in a physically and emotionally taxing play like “Venus,” which is even more topical now than when Prince first decided to produce the script. Its themes of power dynamics and sex in the audition and rehearsal process moved from the stage to the news earlier this year when allegations of misconduct and assault at Profiles, a prominent Chicago theater, rocked the theatrical world.
It prompted conversations about theater industry power and abuse far outside of Chicago, and even in the rehearsals of Liminal’s production of Venus.
“We did talk about that,” says Prince. “Both in terms of the content of (“Venus in Fur”) and the way in which we are playing it. That’s a part of the conversation.”
Difficult conversation seem to be a regular part of Liminal’s oeuvre, and audiences will no doubt be left with lingering questions after “Venus in Fur” hits the stage.
The production runs Nov. 10-20 at Vault 1031, located at 1031 S. Sixth St. Tickets are $18, and showtime is 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. on Sundays.