The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

A Very Sexy Comedy

Plunged into darkness and silence as the lights cut out and the air conditioner stopped whirling, Riverside Theater seemed to be an ominous place.

Huge, dim, and empty, the theater, 213 N. Gilbert St., hardly seemed a place that would open a new show in a matter of days.

With the snapping of a power line slightly before noon on Aug. 30, the cast and crew of the Riverside Theater production of Venus in Fur were given an unexpected break before the opening at 7:30 p.m. Friday; the run will continue through Sept. 29 with a final matinée.

The cast used the down time to discuss the show that they have been working on.

“It’s a very sexy comedy,” said director Sean Christopher Lewis. “It’s adapted from a very racy novel that created an uproar when it was published in the 19th century.”

The play, by David Ives, has only two characters, actress Vanda and playwright/director Thomas.

Responding very late to the casting call for the lead actress in the new play Venus in Fur, Vanda insists on being given the opportunity to audition and ends up surprising Thomas and being more than she seems at first glance.

“Vanda is seemingly a mess when you first meet her — stressed out, discombobulated, wild,” said Saffron Henke, the actor playing Vanda.

Further into the production, more about Vanda is revealed, and it is possible to begin understanding the complex character.

“As the play goes on, you realize [Vanda] has her ulterior motives for coming to this audition,” Lewis said. “[Vanda and Thomas] do some pretty detestable things. [Thomas] has desires he’s never tried to speak, so the way he goes about trying to fulfill these are deplorable.”

“Deplorable” is not a word most people would want used to describe themselves, so it may seem odd that Jess Prichard, the actor playing Thomas, described playing the character as “fun.”

“I think, as an actor, it’s your responsibility to do what your character does without judging it,” he said. “One of the fun things about being an actor is getting to explore aspects of yourself that you wouldn’t get to in your life outside acting and then getting to share that with an audience who can see those aspects in themselves.”

Prichard believes everyone can relate to the show and see facets of themselves in the characters he and Henke portray.

“This show can be appreciated by people 18 to 80, especially people who are dating right now,” Prichard said. “They can have a lot of fun watching people work through male-female dynamics without having to struggle through them themselves.”

Lewis believes that audiences will be riveted by the dynamic between the two characters.

“Human beings are kind of fascinating,” he said. “For some reason, when we get on stage, it’s harder to remember the unpredictability. Drama exists in the miscommunications and the struggle to be on the same page. [Vanda and Thomas] will show us a lot of miscommunications that go on around seductions or failed seductions.”

With audiences watching that struggle play out on stage, laced with miscommunications, Lewis hopes the play will fill them with awe and understanding.

“It’s about empathy,” he said. “I don’t care if you relate to the sexiness, but you can relate to having a secret or being ashamed.”

Henke recalls being immediately interested in the script for several reasons, including how much she could relate to it.

“I was drawn to the script because it’s a great part for a woman — the subject matter is deep and exciting, and the play is a comedy, a drama and has everything in between,” she said. “I think the show gives the audience lots to think, feel, and talk about. It’s an exciting play and a wild ride.”

The audience will certainly have plenty to think about when considering what Prichard describes as “The real question: What is love to you?”


Venus in Fur

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday through Saturday, 2 p.m. Sept. 8. The show will continue through Sept. 29.

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