After 65 shows in two theaters in front of a total of 14,500 audience members, the adaptation of David Ives’ play “Venus in Fur” by Lina Khoury and Gabriel Yammine, directed by Jacques Maroun, has proven to be simply flawless.
The play brought out a wide range of responses from the spectators; from laughter to shock back to laughter and then confusion. But the greatest emotion of all was simply enjoyment at its best. During the hour and a half treat, the audience had the pleasure of witnessing two very powerful performances. In “Venus,” Badih Abou Chakra portrays the writer and first-time director of the same name in a play based on the 1870’s novel by German writer Leopold von Sacher-Masoch “Venus in Furs” (the novel that inspired the term ‘sadomasochism’). As the viewers are first introduced to him, they sense how exasperated and desperate he is because his hunt for the ideal actress is proving fruitless. Rita Hayek embodies the actress Vanda El Hawa who comes to audition for the play’s female lead role “Vanda von Dunayev.”
Not only are the actors’ performances flawless, but the complex story that offers a close-up look at the earliest forms of sadomasochism is also intriguing and rich, with various elements that keep the spectator captivated the whole time. The strength of this play lies mainly in the mysterious intermingling of reality and fiction within the work and the confusing yet fascinating power shifts as the plot progresses.
Abou Chakra (the character in “Venus”) witnesses before his eyes the jaw-dropping transformation of this apparently vulgar woman into the perfect embodiment of the novel’s main character, the classy von Dunayev. He is absolutely amazed and finds himself transported to the universe of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch while reading the part of the male lead Severin Von Kusiemski. He becomes so immersed in the role that the audience wonders whether Abou Chakra sees some of himself in the fictional male character in von Sacher-Masoch’s story, as we notice him subconsciously adopting some of Severin’s attitudes and actions as his own. Blurred becomes the line separating the narrative and reality … which is at the essence of this play’s uniqueness.
Vanda, on the other hand, has more self-control and seems to know perfectly well how to get in and out of character in mere seconds. She has an incredible ability to detach herself completely from the role and then reinsert herself in it to deliver a performance that is beyond all expectations, almost surreal. She is a woman who came out of nowhere, who turned out to know more than she first claimed, who was beyond prepared for the role, and who was subtly yet surely able to turn the tables on Abou Chakra.
Both actors were simply exquisite in their respective roles.
Hayek delivered a groundbreaking performance. Her character was so skillfully nuanced that she kept the audience wondering whether she was merely a vision, a symbol of feminine domination, a Goddess even, who wore the disguise of a young woman and comes into Abou Chakra’s life one night especially to poke him, provoke him, subtly test him, and finally free him from his inner demons, inhibitions and lies.
But as the saying goes “it takes two to tango,” and even if the play does revolve around Venus and her power, Hayek’s partner Abou Chakra was also truly impeccable. One could witness a crescendo in which not only Abou Chakra (the character) and von Kusiemski seem to merge, but where something much more mesmerizing sees the light, which ends the play on an incredible high note.
“Venus” is a masterpiece that no fan of theater should have missed.