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The Play-goer:

Compass Rose Theater creates a small, intimate miracle

photo by Stan Barouh/ Joe Mucciolo as Thomas and Anna Deblasio as Vanda in this two-person play.

       Darkly comic and spookily erotic, Venus in Fur, David Ives’s play within a play, is Compass Rose Theater’s offering this October.

         A storm rages outside as writer/director Thomas Novachek  (Joe Mucciolo) complains on the phone about his day to his fiancée. He has seen 35 actresses, and not one is capable of playing Vanda. “They bring props,” he rants, “whole sacks of costumes. Whatever happened to femininity?  Bring along some of that, please.”

         He’s asking a lot. His Vanda, only 24, is a worldly 19th century courtesan in his adaptation of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s 1870 novel, Venus in Fur.

         The storm continues as one last actress (Anna Deblasio), Vanda Jordan, bursts into the room, drenched and spewing expletives about her day and life in general. She shares his character’s name, but this Vanda Jordan is just another actress with a bag of costumes.

         As Thomas protests, Vanda sheds her wet raincoat, revealing black leather dominatrix gear, complete with a dog collar.

         “Just thought I’d kinda get into the part,” she tells him, “I mean it’s basically S&M, right?” (The term masochism comes from Sacher-Masoch’s name.)

         Refusing to leave, Vanda convinces Thomas to read with her. He has not released the script, but she tells him she has glanced at it and pulls a well-read copy out of the bag of tricks. Reading, she transforms into Vanda, the Russian sophisticate and sets in motion a battle of dominance and submission between Thomas and Vanda and their characters in the play, Kushemski and Vanda.

         Initially, Vanda has the more challenging part. Nina Ariadne won the Tony award for her performance as Vanda on Broadway. Deblasio leaps into the challenge with stiletto heels in one moment, and in the next transforming back to ditzy, vulgar actress. Mucciolo is perfect as he moves from Thomas to Kushemski and finally, and best, to playing the part of Vanda herself.

         In the end, the audience is left to decide what has just happened before them. Is it about victimization? Is it about the plight of actors and what they suffer? Or has Venus possibly come to Earth to defend women?

         The two-person play is written for an intimate stage. The close setting of the Compass Rose Theater’s temporary stage, the Country Inn Suites, works to its advantage. It is almost essential to be up close and personal to watch the interplay between these two. 

         Compass Rose Theater’s founder, Lucinda Merry-Browne has overcome not insurmountable, but certainly mounting, obstacles to realize a small miracle producing and directing Venus in Fur.

         Costuming is the work of production supervisor Mary Ruth Cowgill. The fight scenes were choreographed (yes, there are fights) by James Bunzli. Stage manager Rachel A. Walsh provided the essential background storm.

90 minutes with no intermission. Playing thru Nov. 4, FSa 8pm, SaSu 2pm, Th 7pm, Compass Rose Theater at Country Inn & Suites by Radisson, 2600 Housley Rd., Annapolis, $41 w/discount, rsvp: www.compassrosetheater.org.