Venus in Fur isn't nearly as kinky as it pretends to be. But it is pretty damned funny. Credit playwright David Ives, who skewers literary pedants and gender dynamics in a single deft stroke, and who created the memorable Vanda Jordan—actress, dominatrix, goddess.
In San Diego Repertory Theatre's current production of Venus in Fur, Caroline Kinsolving is a hysterical force of nature as leatherclad, dog-collar-wearing Vanda, who's more than a match for uptight, pretentious playwright Thomas Novachek (Jeffrey Meek). As Vanda, who's auditioning for the lead role in Novachek's play that he swears is not about sadomasochism, Kinsolving ping-pongs from earthy wisecracker to 19th-century m'lady and still finds time to swing from a pole like a pro. The latter earned her a burst of applause on opening night from the Rep audience, demonstrating better critical reception than Elizabeth Berkley got for Showgirls.
Kinsolving and Meek thrust and parry for an hour-and-a-half on stage in the Rep's compact, barely furnished Lyceum Space, play-acting and changing costumes (though Kinsolving is mostly in fetish-wear) and even swapping genders near the end. The closest they ever come to the aforementioned kinky is Meek's zipping up Kinsolving's thigh-high boots while she writhes on a fainting couch. (That's the extent of any comparison between this play and Kinky Boots.) There are narrative suggestions throughout that Vanda Jordan may not be whom she first appears to be, and the otherworldly finale implies the downright mythological. Take these clues for what they are.
Co-directors Kim Rubinstein and the Rep's Sam Woodhouse keep Venus in Fur from careening off track, though in Kinsolving and Meek they have a pair of actors who clearly have a feel for Ives' play. Woodhouse told the opening-night audience before curtain that Venus in Fur is the most produced play in America this year, and that's not a big surprise. From the theaters' standpoint, it must be relatively inexpensive to produce and, for audiences, it's 90-something minutes of laughs naughty enough to inspire après-show romancing—or fantasizing, as the case may be.
Venus in Fur runs through Dec. 8 at the Lyceum Theatre at Horton Plaza, Downtown. $31-$47. sdrep.org
A Christmas Carole: Cygnet Theatre continues its tradition of presenting the holiday classic in the style of a radio play, complete with old-timey commercials. Opens Nov. 29 at The Old Town Theatre. cygnettheatre.com
Catch a Falling Star: Lambs Players' holiday play this year revolves around a woman's attempt to film a musical Christmas card at a remote mountain cabin that was meaningful to her father. Opens Nov. 29 at Lamb's Players Theatre. lambsplayers.org
Million Dollar Quartet: A musical-theater representation of an impromptu jam session involving Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash at Sun Records. Presented by Broadway San Diego, it runs Dec. 3 through 8 at the Civic Theatre, Downtown. broadwaysd.com
Reasons to be Pretty: In Neil LaBute's plain-spoken comedy, four blue-collar characters wrestle with notions of physical beauty and the power of modern-day language. Presented by Ion Theatre Company, it opens in previews Nov. 30 at BLKBOX Theatre in Hillcrest. iontheatre.com
Suds: The Rockin' '60s Musical Soap Opera : The story of a young woman looking for love in a Laundromat frames a soundtrack of '60s hits. Runs through Dec. 1 at Coronado Playhouse. coronadoplayhouse.com
The Gift Teller : Playwright, director and screenwriter Stephen Metcalfe's update of A Gift of the Magi gets a world premiere. Through Dec. 8 at Scripps Ranch Theatre. scrippsranchtheatre.org
Skinless : The opening play of Moxie Theatre's ninth season follows a student who bases her dissertation on an obscure horror and sci-fi writer and gets more than she bargained for. Through Dec. 8 at Moxie Theatre in Rolando. moxietheatre.com
Venus in Fur : A writer-director who's created an adaptation of the novel Venus in Furs gets the tables turned on him by an actress who insists on reading for the lead role. Presented by San Diego Repertory Theatre, it runs through Dec. 8 at the Lyceum Theatre at Horton Plaza, Downtown. sdrep.org
Side Show : A musical based on a true story about conjoined twins and circus-freak-show performers Violet and Daisy Hilton, who find fame as a vaudeville act and search for true love. Through Dec. 15 at La Jolla Playhouse. lajollaplayhouse.org
Mrs. Bob Cratchit's Wild Christmas Binge : Christopher Durang's musical spoof of A Christmas Carol supposes that Gladys Cratchit is an angry, boozing, modern American woman who happens to have 21 kids. Through Dec. 22 at Patio Playhouse in Escondido. patioplayhouse.com
Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! : This'll be the 16th year that the green one will slink onto the stage at The Old Globe Theater in Balboa Park. "Fah Who Doraze," indeed. Through Dec. 28. oldglobe.org
Forever Plaid: Paid Tidings : The wholesome revue of 1950s-style harmony singing returns—again. Through Dec. 31 at New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad. newvillagearts.org
Crime Pays : A radio game show with dastardly overtones, served up with dinner, is presented by Mystery Cafe at Imperial House restaurant in Bankers Hill. mysterycafe.net