• Chris Bennion

Within the first few seconds of Venus in Fur, we know Thomas is bound for a fall. Or at least we hope so. He's an arrogant, mid-career New York playwright complaining over the phone about the stupidity of the actors he's auditioned that day—and the stupidity of actors in general—while a storm thunders ominously outside his studio. He's looking for a leading lady for his adaptation of Venus in Furs, the 19th-century novel by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (the namesake of "masochism") about a young man's successful search for sexual humiliation at the hands of a cruel mistress. But at the moment, Thomas can't find a woman worthy of his imagination.

"There are no women like this," he whines into the phone. "No sexy-slash-articulate young women with some classical training and a particle of brain in their skulls. Is that so much to ask? An actress who can actually pronounce the word 'degradation' without a tutor?" To make sure we get it, real-life playwright David Ives punctuates Thomas's rant with portentous stage directions: "Thunder and lightning. The lights in the room flicker."

Enter Vanda, an aspiring actress who shows up late, wet, and flustered. Thomas insists the auditions are over and he's going home, but she coaxes him into reading a few pages of the script with her. This is Vanda's first victory.

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