Power. The power a playwright has over words; the power a director has over an actor; the power a man has over a woman; the power, in turn, a woman has over a man.
The world turns on such power plays, in which someone is in a position above someone else — unless, or until, the person below decides to turn the tables, to take that power into their own hands.
“Venus in Fur,” David Ives’ 2010 play — currently in a very fine production at Capital Repertory Theatre — is a play about power. The question is, who has it? The answer to that question changes, sometimes within minutes, throughout the entire tense 95-minute running time of the production.
Thomas Novachek (Timothy Deenihan) is a playwright who has written an adaptation of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s 1870 novel “Venus in Furs.” (If the author’s name reminds you of masochism, it should — it’s where we got the term. It should also give you an idea where the evening is headed.)
‘Venus in Fur’
WHERE: Capital Repertory Theatre, 111 N. Pearl Street, Albany
WHEN: Through Oct. 20
HOW MUCH: $60 to $16
MORE INFO: 445-7469, www.capitalrep.org
He’s also decided to direct his own work (which any playwright can tell you is not a very good idea) and is auditioning actresses to play the lead. Just when he thinks there’s no one who embodies the character, enter Vanda (Jenny Strassburg) — a bedraggled blonde with a thick accent who he immediately writes off as completely wrong — not just as the character, but as a human being.
She refuses to leave, however. She’s going to audition – because, she says, she is the character.
What happens next is something new to area stages, something fresh and innovative and intelligent and crisp; the play itself is brilliantly written, and everything associated with the production, from acting, to direction, to set and lighting, are a perfect match for the strength of the words.
We are immediately in Thomas and Vanda’s world, trying to tease out what exactly is going on at this audition. We are caught up in the struggle between the two characters, and, in the grand scheme of things, between men and women as a whole.
Deenihan brings a world-weariness to Thomas. His overintellectualizing and tendency to leap to anger is the perfect embodiment of the character. No matter how good he is, however (and he is), this is Strassburg’s play, and she makes sure we know it. Her Vanda is electric, from the moment she steps on stage. Over the course of the action, she plays many roles and many characters, sometimes even within playing the same character — and she does each one with such style and such heart you can’t take your eyes off her.
“In our society, a woman’s only power is through men. Her character is her lack of character. She’s a blank, to be filled in by creatures who at heart despise her,” Vanda reads from Thomas’ script, and the words ring true.
Thomas is trying to turn Vanda into the woman in his script, to exert his power over her. However, you keep watching to see what Vanda will do. You know the power struggle isn’t truly over until someone stands triumphant, and you won’t know who that will be until the very last moment.
And the very moment leading up to that last moment is a testament to another type of power: the power of truly great theater to transport us somewhere else for a little while.