The Singapore Repertory Theatre opened its 20th anniversary season with a re-production of the Broadway hit, Venus in Fur. A first glance at the promotional photo of Venus in Fur will lead one to think that it is a play that promotes pornography or a vivid display of sado-masochism. But do not be fooled for this is an incredibly smart and intense production.
The play starts off on a humorous note with Anson Mount talking to his fiancee on the telephone complaining about the lack of talented actresses for his play, Venus in Fur. Anson Mount is famously known for his portrayal of Britney’s love interest in the 2002 movie, Crossroads. Suddenly, Steffanie Leigh enters and begs to audition for the role of Vanda. This is a drastic change from Steffanie’s previous portrayal of the lead character in the Broadway musical, Mary Poppins. This then turns into a play within a play where we see the power of balance switching from the director to the actress. One is gripped by Steffanie when she plays sweet and naïve Vanda (the actress undergoing an audition) who takes on a more dominant role when she plays the character in the play within the play. At the same time, Anson’s character of the all-controlling director changes to that of a submissive man who throws himself at the feet of Vanda.
The intelligent part about the play was how it kept referencing the book from which the play within the play was adapted and the transition from the play within the play to the actual play itself. The two-person cast brilliantly pulled it off without causing any confusion whatsoever. It was amazing how it kept the audience on the edge of their seats as we never know when the play will change to the play within the play or the book.
As the plot thickens, one realizes that Vanda is actually the Goddess Venus who came down to demonstrate that the power imbalance between the genders in today’s society must shift to give more power to women. When Venus was revealed in her ‘true’ form at the end of the play, the shattering of the background acted as an evocative image of how our preconceptions of women are shattered. This is what society should aim towards. The witty dialogue brings out this issue of power imbalance with the interspersion of erotic sizzle. The erotic scenes were tastefully done to prevent it from changing into a bad pornographic film.
Both Anson and Steffanie successfully pulled off the entire play with humor, wit and classy sexiness despite some technical glitches. There were periods of time in the play where Steffanie’s dresses could not be properly zipped. Yet, the two-person cast did not fumble and one must applaud them for their flawless acting. It is a privilege to watch two of New York’s shining stars on stage. The range of the cast was so wide that despite it being a two-person cast, their skills made it seem like there were more on stage.
Since time immemorial, male and female relationships have always been complex especially in Singapore which is still very much a patriarchal society, much like the Victorian society in which the play within the play was set. Women with power and who have the courage to exhibit such power are frowned upon as this is not the traditional way of life. But as the play within the play progresses, one can see how the repression of women forces women to rebel and come out on top (pun intended). Furthermore, Singapore, being a conservative society, is still relatively uncomfortable with the discussion and manifestation of transgender issues. For instance, there was a scene where Steffanie and Anson swapped roles with Anson took on the role of Vanda and Steffanie that of a man. The audience reacted to this role switch with nervous laughter when Anson put on a female dress. This was a stark contrast to the more light-hearted cheer evident throughout the rest of the play. Also, when we spoke to Anson after the play, he too pointed out this nervous laughter as something which he had not expected because it was not intended to be funny.
This play struck a chord with me for I dislike how achievements are specifically applauded and singled out because they were achieved by women. We have reached a society where women are holding powerful positions in the family, workforce and the general public. Yet the traditional view as seen from the opening of the play is that the role of women is second to that of men. This is not in line with the way society (like the play) has progressed. It is time for a change in the way society views women and it is time we accept women for who they are: strong, sexy and smart just like Venus in Fur.
Venus in Fur will run at the DBS Arts Centre – Home of the SRT from 15 to 30 March 2013
Please visit www.sistic.com.sg for more details on ticketing
Advisory: 16 years and above (Mature Content & Coarse Language)