None Too Fragile’s ‘Venus in Fur’ is a stormy battle of the sexes




Thomas Novechek (James Rankin) is having problems. He has completed a new play destined for New York City. It is an adaptation of Austrian author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (where we get the term masochistic from). It is the 1870 novella “Venus in Furs” which Thomas has renamed in the singular “Venus in Fur.” Thomas (who also wears the hat of Director) is having a hard time casting the roll of the female lead, Vanda von Dunayev.

After an entire day of auditions he is not even close to finding a suitable choice for the part. Thomas is on the phone lamenting to a friend about the sad parade of women trying out for the part who were either “too young”, “too old”, “too uneducated”, “too flighty in speech” or “not available.”

Just as he is closing up shop for the day he gets a call from his fiance as they connect for dinner plans later on in the evening. As he is talking to his fiance a thunderstorm breaks cutting off the phone connection. Suddenly the door flies open in and in breezes Wanda (Mary Werntz) making her entrance.

Wanda is hours late for an audition that Thomas has no record of on his books. She is toting bags of costumes as well as the full script. She is wearing a black leather mini skirt with skimpy black leather top that barely conceals a black lace bodice. The outfit is finished off with black lace silk stockings and a leather dog collar.

Wanda begs and pleads with Thomas to just give her one chance. The poor man is frazzled and just wants to go home to a nice dinner with his significant other. Against his better judgment and in spite of Wanda’s heavy Bronx accent where every other noun, verb, adjective, pronoun and modifier is the “F” word he agrees to do a short reading just to get Wanda out of the office. Wanda talks him into playing Severin.

Wanda pulls an 1800’s full length dress out of her collection of bags and stripping down to her undies puts the dress on. Instantly she becomes “Vanda” complete with continental accent and attitude. Thomas is in a state of shock over the transformation. As the reading begins reality suddenly blurs with fantasy as both participants dive so deep into the characters that they lose sight of Thomas and Wanda and in fact become Vanda and Severin.

Over the course of the reading there begins a battle for power. Wanda/Vanda has her own ideas as to how the play should be unfold which Thomas agrees with up to a point. It is her opinion that the book and play demeans women and needs to be changed. As Thomas/Severin surrenders his control over the play you can feel him giving up much more. The readings are interrupted by frequent phone calls from Thomas’s fiance wondering where in the heck he is. He continues to make more and more excuses until finally blurts out at Vanda’s urging that he will not be home that night.

As Wanda/Vanda gains more and more control she suddenly reveals that she has been hired by his fiance (whom she had met at the gym) to test his love and seduce him if possible and that thus far he has passed the test...barely. As the thunderstorm rages outside she is able to incapacitate Thomas/Severin using the dog collar and a silk stocking. It is then revealed that Wanda/Vanda is much more powerful that Thomas could ever imagine.

Being as this is a two character play, the success depends solely on the relationship chemistry between the two principles. None Too Fragile has hit it out of the park with this one. Mary Werntz (Wanda/Vanda/Investigator/Deity) flawlessly shifts from character to character sometimes in mid word in not only accent but demeanor as well. You truly believe that she is who she says that she is at that very moment. James Rankin (Thomas/Severin) is her equal in being able to morph back and forth between his two alter-egos.

The show is flawlessly directed by Sean Derry who also designed and constructed the excellent set. Marcus Dana excels in the Lighting Design harnessing the power of a thunderstorm. The same is to be said about Tom Barnes’ Sound Design which also puts you in the center of a tempest. Costumer Stephen Ostertag fills up Wanda’s collection of bags with all sorts of surprises.

When the gods come to earth in order to take on a pet project anything can happen and usually does. What looks like a simple reading of a play based on a naughty book turns into much more as power shifts from one to another. This is great theater.

“Venus in Fur” will be on stage at the none Too Fragile Theatre located at 732 West Exchange Street, Akron, Ohio through May 28, 2022. For more information and to purchase tickets go to https://www.nonetoofragile.com/ or call (330) 962-5547.

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Who is Mark Horning?

Over the course of my life I have worked a variety of jobs including newspapers, retail camera sales and photography. Eight years ago I embarked on yet another career as writer. This included articles concerning sports and cultural events in Cleveland, Ohio as well reviews of the many theatrical productions around town. These days are spent photographing professional dance groups, theater companies and various galas and festivals as well as attending various stage performances and posting reviews about them.