For the first show in its intimate and newly renovated indoor theater, Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park is preparing an intimate and modern show based on a torrid classic novel.
“I’m obsessed with it. I think it’s not only the perfect space for this show, but it’s a space that I think is unlike any other space in the Oklahoma City subway. .. The seats are kind of reclined so you get this almost voyeuristic view of the stage because you’re looking at it from above,” said Amanda Lee, co-star of the upcoming Oklahoma Shakespeare production. “Venus in Fur” by David Ives.
“My favorite thing is really putting the theater in people’s faces. That’s exactly what this space does, and it’s so perfect for this show.”
Sexual tension will fill the renovated space when Lee and her longtime friend Matthew Alvin Brown, a mainstay of the OKC theater scene, co-starring in the Oklahoma Shakespeare production of “Venus in Fur,” a Tony Award-winning comedy about the power of sex and the sensuality of power. Ives’ two-man game is inexorably linked to Classic 1870 erotic novel by Austrian author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch “Venus in Furs”.
“I think it’s something very appropriate in today’s culture and what’s going on in the world today. And it’s a story that can be seen in a million different ways” , said Lee.
“If you want to come in and see a scantily clad woman for 90 minutes, great. You’re going to get it and maybe you’ll leave saying, ‘Wow, Amanda was very scantily clad. What a fantastic adventure it was. …Or if you want to come in and say, “Oh, wow, this is about the power play that goes on between directors and actresses”…that’s part of it. Or is it something much deeper? Is it about the power struggle between men and women? Is it S&M? Is it about how this person is maybe more than they look?'”
When and where can people see the OKC production of “Venus in Fur?”
Kathryn McGill, executive and artistic director and co-founder of Oklahoma Shakespeare, will lead the small professional company’s production of “Venus in Fur” with performances July 29 through August 29. 13 in his renovated indoor venue in the Paseo Arts District.
“What’s great is that we can finally use the inner space – and we’re kicking it off with a comedy about sadomasochism. So there you have it,” McGill said with a laugh.
“I think August is going to be a month for us to experiment and grow a bit, and I’ve been interested in ‘Venus in Fur’ ever since I heard about it and first read it in 2011. . … It was a big hit, then it was a two-man game, which is ideal for our small, tiny space.”
OKC Theater revamps Paseo Arts District home during pandemic
After canceling most of its 2020 season and postponing its 2021 shows to midsummer due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the venerable company used the pandemic break to renovate his Paseo house, the construction of an outdoor performance space with a stage, sound booth and landscaping; adding more bathrooms, as well as a proper gift shop, bar and ticket office; and fitting out a larger indoor stage, complete with actual theater seating, a wheelchair ramp, full backstage facilities and dressing rooms.
The company launched its Shakespeare Gardens last summer and continued to make improvements while performing in the outdoor space. Today, the company finally presents its first show in its indoor black box theater as it continues its 38th season.
“It’s so great to have our two performance halls here because it’s a space we can grow in and maybe expand if needed. We’ve kind of always been looking for a permanent home. We felt like Hafer Park (in Edmond) was our home, but it still had its problems – and then when it burned down twice, we thought, ‘No, we can’t do this anymore,’ McGill recalls.
“It’s the first time in several years that we feel proud to open the doors. … It really feels like home.”
The company moved its headquarters and indoor shows to the Paseo in 2014 and continued to produce outdoor shows at the aquatic stage of the Myriad Botanical Garden until 2019. Creating a more accessible interior room for its cast, crew and spectators meant losing around 15 seats, bringing the black box theater’s capacity to 54 ticket holders.
“We had to replace the electrical throughout the building…and we wanted to make sure we were up to all codes….We wanted to make sure it was accessible; we want to be inclusive and we want to make sure anyone who wants to come can come,” McGill said.
“The audience is really right in the middle of the action, which is a lot of fun. So I think we’re going to be really happy with the space, and I’m just having fun exploring it for the first time with this Game.”
What is “Fur Venus” about?
Set in modern-day New York, “Venus in Fur” centers on Thomas Novachek (Brown), the author of a new play he has decided to direct himself. His provocative acting in the play is an adaptation of “Venus in Furs” by Sacher-Masoch, the book that inspired the term “masochism.”
The show opens with Novachek lamenting the shortcomings of the actresses who tried that day to play its lead character, Vanda von Dunayev. At the last minute, an enigmatic newcomer – oddly enough, also named Vanda (Lee) – bursts in and demands to audition. Novachek reluctantly agrees and reads the male part in front of her.
Although the actress comes across as silly, brash, and unrefined upon her arrival, she suddenly transforms into a 19th-century seductress as she begins to read the part, and she and Novachek find themselves caught up in their respective roles.
“That’s where the humor ensues – and then the power struggle ensues. It really is a compelling piece. David Ives is famous for a truly classic combination of rigor with language…but he always puts a contemporary spirit on everything,” McGill said.
“It’s a comedy about masochism. Well, they talk about sadomasochism…but it’s really about power and the line between fantasy and reality.”
What can people expect from “Venus in Fur?”
Although the play is definitely not for children, McGill said “Venus in Fur” is not particularly sexually explicit.
“We attribute it to R, but that’s only because they’re swearing. She’s wearing a skimpy little suit, but she’s fully covered. … There are no sex acts. I think that ‘they maybe touch once or twice,’ she said.
“There are seductive moments, but it’s more about power and the struggle between men and women. … I think it’s a feminist play.”
After its famous off-Broadway premiere in 2010, “Venus in Fur” moved to Broadway for an acclaimed 2011-2012 tour. It was nominated for Best Play at the 2012 Tony Awards, where Nina Arianda won Best Actress in a Play for her turn in the female lead, a role she originated both on Broadway and off. Controversial filmmaker Roman Polanski adapted the title 2013 film with French actors Emmanuelle Seigner and Mathieu Amalric.
“If you’ve seen the movie, the play is much funnier,” McGill said. “When I first thought of this play, I said, ‘I need two actors to do it, because you can’t teach acting. …I immediately thought of Amanda and Matt. I thought, ‘That’s my dream cast right there.'”
Local actors come together in a sultry show
Best of all, Lee and Brown have known each other for two decades.
“We actually did a show together almost exactly 20 years ago, where we played love interests. We haven’t been on stage together in 20 years, and here we are again. … We have a chemistry born out of that show 20 years ago and our relationship. We’ve been friends for so long that the storyline back and forth feels very natural,” Lee said.
The Norman interpreter previously played Marie-Antoinette in Oklahoma Shakespeare’s 2018 production of the French Revolutionary comedy “The Revolutionaries” by the famous American playwright Lauren Gunderson.
“Kathryn McGill is not one to make safe choices. In my opinion, she is cutting edge, which is why I enjoy working with her,” Lee said.
“I came to see Kathryn in maybe April or May, and I was like, ‘Hey, what’s your vision for this character? Do you want her a little heavier? Do you want her a little leaner? ‘ …She looked at me and she said, “I just want you.” And I was like, “Oh, okay. So it’s good. I’m enough the way I am,” and that feeling of her gave me all the confidence in the world.”
Additionally, Lee said she was excited to make her acting debut at the company’s renovated theater, where she will direct. “Jane Austen’s Christmas Cookie” for the holidays.
“I don’t want to be too hippy about it, but the vibe of the space is very cool. I made a joke the other day that it felt like it was made with wings of ‘angels and baby tears. There’s something about it that just feels like there’s this weight of awesomeness hanging over it,” she said.
‘VENUS IN FUR’
When: July 29-August. 13.
Where: Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park Black Box Indoor Theater, 2920 Paseo.
Tickets and information: https://www.okshakes.org.