A small group of writers, hipsters and creative minds were invited back for the dress rehearsal of N.C. Stage’s new production, Venus In Fur, on Tuesday, March 18. The same group had observed a scene rehearsal two weeks prior, sparking a smattering of blogs, tweets and word-of-mouth buzz over the scintillating production.
It was all part of an experiment — initiated by N.C. Stage audience development manager Kelly Walker — to allow audiences a peek behind the curtain and insight into the process of bringing a play to the stage.
Thunder and lightning punctuated the curtain open to reveal actor Willie Repoley. Repoley had fully transformed into his character, Thomas, sporting dark-rimmed glasses, slicked-back hair and a mustache. It was clear that the opening scene of the play, which the group did not see at the rehearsal, was crucial to set up Thomas’ attitude and dilemma. Having been deluged all day by amateurs and unable to find an actress capable of playing the lead in his play, Thomas is frustrated, exhausted and ready to go home.
The mood shifts when the outrageous Vanda (played by Hannah Sloat) enters drenched from the rain and spewing F-bombs. Undeterred by her tardiness, she pushes her way in and removes her trench coat to reveal a stunning outfit she believes perfect for the audition: skin-tight black tights, spiked dog collar and leather corset (which she removes to reveal an even skimpier top). Later, when Vanda drapes herself in a frilly dress more appropriate to the character she’s auditioning for, it’s impossible to forget what’s underneath. (Don’t worry, you’ll get to see it again.)
Sure, she’s attractive, but what is more alluring to a creative mind than someone who truly gets their work? That’s the real hook Vanda eventually grabs Thomas with, and that’s why he can’t let her go, even when she challenges, defies, insults and demeans him.
Director Angie Flynn McIver sharpened the script with moments of physical comedy — while Thomas describes Vanda’s character as ‘proper,’ the actress is bent over looking between her legs. Over-the-top Vanda then runs through a series of ridiculous acting warm-up exercises that left the audience laughing, not to mention thoroughly convinced that Thomas had another amateur to contend with. Then Thomas (and the audience) watched spellbound as Vanda nailed the scene, accent and all, changing their relationship and the arc of the play in an instant.
Production coordinator, Catori Swann, said everything went off without a hitch at the dress rehearsal, except a prop accidentally falling out of a coat pocket and a little cell phone snafu. Turns out, Swann is meant to cue the cell phone to ring via his Ipad during the show. During the dress rehearsal, the phone decided to ring once on it’s own. The actors covered well. But don’t mistake this cell phone ring as unimportant; it’s actually the third character, complete with sexy ringtone and the kind of timing that punctuates a scene.
On this night, the audience was captivated watching the relationship between Thomas and Vanda ebb and flow, cresting with a finale that invited interpretation. As the audience poured from the theater debating what really happened in this smart, sexy play, the mood was one of exhilaration. There was also a sense of pride that we had participated (even in a small way) in bringing such a masterful production to the stage.
Venus in Fur runs Wednesday, March 19-Sunday, April 13. Wednesday-Saturday, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, at 2 p.m. $14-$30, Student tickets $10. ncstage.org.