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Who's Your Venus?

Venus in Furs at NCRT



It would be foolish to not see the limited run of Venus in Furs at North Coast Repertory Theatre. Also, what a shame that this is not a full run of David Ives' 90-minute comedic play of intricacies, intrigue and intimacy. Jesse March and Kathryn Cesarz will undoubtedly find even more nuance layered between the spaces of Ives' gorgeous writing and deserve the time to explore the subtleties that birth their fresh and bold work. Obvious products of Dell'Arte's approach to character exploration through the physical, this work is a strong evolution. They tone back the technique that's often too apparent in other Dell'Artians' work, and make way for the truth of their characters through relationship and chemistry. This creates the space for the audience to be swept away with what is not being said as much as the actual dialogue. Yet it still feels authentic and in-the-moment, where the same approach by other actors could feel overly produced.

The stage design is underwhelming, messy even. And absolutely brilliant. I have, in the past, felt that the staff of various otherwise incredible productions put minimal time into supporting the actors' work at this theater. However, this production and Managing Artistic Director Calder Johnson use that note almost as a joke. Was there not enough fabric to actually close the curtains to hide the backstage/onstage clutter? In fact, the clutter is necessary to give March's character Thomas support as the playwright trying to cast his show. It's also simultaneously the peek-a-boo Cesarz's character Vanda uses for her playground as the whirlwind actress seeks to land the role. In addition to the "mature themed" warnings and advertisements with scanty costumes painting a picture of a seedy show, there's the stripper pole in the middle of the stage. Quickly all this pretense and assumption fades into the metaphors of the boxes, unlit backstage, yet in plain sight. I love all of it. Brian Butler and Johnson's lighting design (executed perfectly by Butler on the night I attended) is simple, effective and divine. Megan Hughes' costume design is good, though there are many lines that specifically reference the textiles or circumstances of costumes that require suspension of disbelief. That's not leather, that's not a fur, those heels are absolutely not stuck in a New York City sidewalk grate — is that really a period coat and dress? These were my thoughts as the play's dialogue differed from what I saw. And still, somehow, it works. Perhaps it's in the magic of the show or the magic of Hughes. Further, all hail the mirror heel, thigh-high stiletto platform boot that is centered in a stunning, elongated moment that had me biting my lip and on the edge of my seat. (Please, Goddess Aphrodite, let them be my size!)

I wish March and Cesarz paid the same attention to their dramatic realism as to their comedy in their phenomenal acting. This is particularly true toward the end of the production, where power dynamics turn physical and their Dell'Artian-isms come out. In comparison to their abilities elsewhere, the end didn't seem dire enough, and I wish they would have leaned into the consequence and survival of the moment. Perhaps this could have been aided by a clever sound design producing more chaos the actors would be forced to push through. Perhaps I am just inspired to get in on a fantastic production, as lovers of the craft sometimes are, by offering suggestions.

The show, this production and its staff and actors question where the boundaries of reality and theater go askew. It asks us to look at chemistry and its meaning. It plays with power and power dynamics, comparing itself to BDSM. It gives social commentary that is not preachy, leaving room for interpretation and opinion. It plays with magic. It is the kind of production you should see because it will inspire you to see it again and experience the newness of the moments created by nuances highly skilled actors use to create an entirely fresh take, specific and special to that exact moment. You only have this weekend left to witness it.

North Coast Repertory Theatre's Venus in Furs shows Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. through March 18. Call (707) 442-6278 or visit

Tiggerbouncer Custodio (he/she/they) is an empowered queer Indigenous Filipino artist whose works have been seen on Humboldt stages and elsewhere.

Coming Soon

Cal Poly Humboldt's players present Radium Girls by D.W. Gregory, about the women who suffered radiation sickness from painting illuminated watch hands, at the Van Duzer Theatre from March 24 through April 2. Visit

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