by Shana Schwartz

When we spoke with Gillian Williams (star of Arizona Theatre Company’s Venus in Fur) and show director Shana Cooper, both women guessed the play would be rated PG-13. If that’s true, it would certainly push the limits of that rating because this show is extremely sexy, and I mean that in the best way possible.

Williams gives a tour de force performance as Vanda opposite Michael Tisdale’s inspired performance as Thomas in a play that examines the balance of power between men and women. Just when you think you know who is in control, everything changes, then changes again, followed by a literal role reversal that throws everything topsy turvy once more. It’s the kind of play that keeps the audience on its toes trying to figure out just what’s going on and who will win this battle of the sexes.

The play begins with the opening music to “Lose Yourself” by Eminem, and the actors do just that. At one hour and forty minutes, the play has no intermission and neither actor ever leaves the stage, meaning there is no place to hide, nor catch their breath. In fact, both actors looked downright exhausted once it was over and I can’t blame them. The play catapults them from master to submissive and back again in a show that may or may not be all about S&M. It’s up to the viewer to decide.

Tisdale is reminiscent of a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde character in that he can go from Thomas, the frustrated writer pulling his hair out, to his secondary character so quickly in the play-within-a-play that it’s hard to believe he’s the same actor. Though the line between his two characters begins to blur by the end of the play (intentionally), Williams is always distinctly Vanda or Wanda (her secondary character), going back and forth between the two so that the audience always knows which one she is. It really feels like four actors on stage instead of just two.

If all of this sounds confusing but intriguing, get to the play before it closes on May 18th and see for yourself. If it sounds confusing but not interesting, take a chance anyway. The Goddess of Love is not someone to be reckoned with.

Arizona Theatre Company

Venus In Fur

Through May 18

The Herberger Theatre