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VENUS IN FUR
By DAVID IVES
Northwestern University Press Copyright © 2011 David Ives
All rights reserved.
[A clash of thunder and a burst of lightning reveal THOMAS in a hare, rented studio. End of an afternoon. A few old metal chairs. A table with a clip-on lamp and a stack of headshots. A ratty prop divan. A metal stand with a coffeemaker and some paper cups. In the middle of the room, an iron pipe disappears into the ceiling. A fuse box hangs on a wall.]
THOMAS [pacing, into his cell phone]: No. No. Nothing. Nobody. It's maddening, it's a plot. There are no women like this. No young women, or young-ish women. No beautiful-slash-sexy women. 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?
[A roll of thunder.]
Honey—honey, in the book VANDA is 24, for God's sake. Back in those days a woman of 24 would've been married. She'd have five kids and tuberculosis. She'd be a woman. Most women who are 24 these days sound like six-year-olds on helium. "And I was all like whatever and he was all like, y'know, and I go like whatever and he's like all, y'know?" No, I don't know, I don't know anything except that I saw thirty-five incompetent actresses today, and even the ones pushing retirement didn't have the stuff. Anybody who does is either shooting a series or she isn't gonna do this for a nickel a week. And the stupidity. They bring along props, whole sacks full of costumes. And whatever happened to femininity? Bring along some of that, please. Young women can't even play feminine these days. Half are dressed like hookers, half like dykes. I'd be a better VANDA than most of these girls, all I'd have to do is put on a dress and a pair of nylons. Well, our VANDA's got to be out there somewhere. But at this point ...
[Thunder and lightning. The lights in the room flicker.]
Hello? Hello? Honey? Honey, are you there?
VANDA [offstage]: Knock knock knock!
[VANDA enters, in steep high heels, wearing a soaked coat. She carries an enormous bag, a purse, and a battered black umbrella.]
VANDA: Am I too late? I'm too late, right? Fuck. Fuck!
THOMAS: If you're here for Venus in Fur, everybody went home half an hour ago.
VANDA: God, I'm sorry, I am so, so sorry, I got caught like way uptown and my cell went out. Then my fucking heel gets stuck in one of those sewer-cover-thing-whatevers. Then there's this guy on the train, I don't even want to tell you about him, rubbing up against my ass the whole trip. Then it starts to pour. I get soaked through to the fucking skin. Fuck! Fuck!
[She throws herself into a chair.]
God. Just my luck. Fuck ... FUCK!
THOMAS: Can I run out and refill any prescriptions for you?
VANDA: I'm okay. Just my usual luck is all. Thank you, God, once again! Hi. I'm sorry. VANDA Jordan.
THOMAS: VANDA ...?
VANDA: See what I mean? I've even got her name! How many girls in this town are named Vanda? Actually I'm Wanda but my parents called me Vanda. Anyway, I'm like perfect for the part and the fucking train gets stuck in a tunnel while this guy's trying to penetrate me. Talk about fate. And you are?
THOMAS: THOMAS Novachek.
VANDA: Hi. Hey, wait a minute. THOMAS Novachek? You wrote this!
THOMAS: Yes, I did. Well, I adapted it.
VANDA: And you're directing it, too, right?
THOMAS: Within an inch of its life.
VANDA: God, I love your plays! I mean, the ones I know. Anatomy of Shadows? Like, wow. Anatomy of Shadows was amazing! I saw it twice!
THOMAS: I didn't write Anatomy of Shadows.
VANDA: Right, right. I mean, you know, the other one. God, this is embarrassing. Anyway, this play is sure amazing. I mean, the parts of it I read. Pretty wild stuff.
[She takes off the coat, revealing a studded patent-leather top, a short black leather skirt, and a silver-studded dog collar.]
Really sexy, huh. Or like, erotic, if you're into humiliation. Oh, by the way, I don't usually walk around in leather lingerie and a dog collar. Usually I'm really demure and shit, lust thought I'd kinda get into the part. I mean it's basically S&M right? The play?
THOMAS: Not exactly. And it does take place in 1870.
VANDA: Mm. I guess this isn't too 1870, huh.
VANDA: Who knows, maybe S&M-ers dressed just like this back then.
[She digs a battered, crushed photo out of her purse.]
Anyway, here's my headshot. I know the résumé's kinda skimpy. But I'm good. I'm like made for this part, I swear to God. I was amazing as Hedda Gabler.
THOMAS [looking over her résumé]: The Urinal Theatre. I somehow missed their season ... You had an appointment?
VANDA: Yeah, two-fifteen. It's like hours ago, right? Well, better late than whatever.
THOMAS [checks the day's appointment sheets]: Vanda ...?
VANDA: ... Jordan. People always say is that real? "Vanda Jordan"?
THOMAS: I don't see your name.
VANDA: Really? My agent said they set it up and everything. I'm not down there? Two-fifteen. Shit. Thank you, God, once again! Anyway ...
[She strips off her top, revealing an amazing bra.]
THOMAS: Wait wait wait. What are you doing?
VANDA [stripping off her leather skirt, revealing black panties and garters]: I brought some costume stuff.
THOMAS: No—Vanda ...
VANDA: It'll just take me a sec, I swear. I found this great dress. Real period shit.
THOMAS: No. Really. Don't bother ...
VANDA: What. You mean don't read?
THOMAS: I mean don't read.
VANDA: Yeah, but. Long as I'm here, I might as well like give it a go, right?
THOMAS: There's nobody to give it a go with. The reader's gone home.
VANDA: I'll read with you. It's always an honor to read with the actual author.
VANDA: Getting the play straight from the horse's mouth is always so cool. Come on, what've you got to lose? I'm already—
THOMAS: Stop. Stop. To tell you the truth, Miss, um ...
THOMAS: We're looking for somebody a little different.
VANDA: Yeah? What are you looking for?
THOMAS: Well, somebody with a little more, how should I put this ...
VANDA: Somebody who's not me. I'm too young. I'm too old. I'm too big, I'm too small. My résumé's not long enough. Okay.
[She bows her head and starts to cry.]
Okay. God, I'm sorry. I'm sorry. It's been like really stressful today. Anyway, how do you know who I am or what I can do? Fuck ... Fuck ...!
THOMAS: We're going to be scheduling more auditions sometime soon ...
VANDA: Yeah, but I'm here. Right? Couldn't you try me out, save yourself the time tomorrow or whatever? And save me the time getting here from the middle of nowhere?
THOMAS: Look, Vanda, it's been a very long day. I'm exhausted. I'm kind of frazzled myself, to tell you the truth. I also just auditioned a living panoply of outcasts for this part, including one girl who had steel teeth. You don't want to audition for me now.
VANDA [putting on her skirt again]: Okay. Yeah. Okay.
THOMAS: This time of day I always unravel a little anyway.
THOMAS: I also have someone waiting for me for dinner.
VANDA [putting on her raincoat]: No. Sure. I understand.
THOMAS: This'll be a lot better when I'm fresh. Thank you very much anyway for coming in. Congratulations on the outfit. Very striking. And we'll see you again.
[VANDA heads for the door with her stuff but stops short.]
VANDA: Yeah, I don't think so. Thank you for saying so, though. You seem like a really nice person. It's just—the business, you know? The goddamn fucking business. Plus I had to put out ten bucks at Screaming Mimi's on the fucking dress.
[Takes a long white fancy dress out of her big bag.]
I mean, isn't that real 18-whatever?
THOMAS: It is very 1870-whatever.
VANDA: Isn't that her? Like, total VANDA? I figured she'd wear one of those long-ass dresses because everybody hated their body back then.
THOMAS: Actually, that's a common misconception about the nineteenth century.
VANDA: Well, can't I just show it to you, how I look? Please, God, please, pretty please?
[THOMAS's cell phone rings.]
THOMAS: Excuse me.
[She quickly strips down again, to get into the dress.]
Hi, honey. Yeah, I lost you, must be the storm.
[To VANDA, waving to her to stop:]
[VANDA keeps on dressing. Into cell phone:]
No, not you, somebody just walked in. Mm-hm. No, I doubt it. Listen, I'll be heading out in a couple of minutes. I'll pick something up on the way. No, I got the book. I love you, too. Ciao.
VANDA: Could you do me up back there?
[THOMAS does her dress up.]
Oh, wow. Reading with Thomas Novachek ...
THOMAS: I'm not an actor, so you're not doing yourself any favors.
This part needs a real actor.
VANDA: Come on. You're perfect. You are Kowalski.
VANDA: Kushemski. You're him.
THOMAS: Not quite.
VANDA [as THOMAS finishes]: Thank you, kind sir. So where do we start? I'm up for it, whatever.
THOMAS: Why don't we try the first scene. You have the sides?
VANDA [digging in the big bag and taking out a ragged script]: Yeah. It got kinda destroyed on the way.
THOMAS: That's the whole script. How did you get that?
VANDA: I dunno. It's what my agent sent me.
THOMAS: How did your agent get it?
VANDA: Wasn't I supposed to get this? What is it, like, top secret or something?
THOMAS: Doesn't matter. Have you read it?
VANDA: I kinda flipped through it quick on the train. So what can you tell me? This is like based on something, right? Besides the Lou Reed song? Venus in Furs?
THOMAS: This is based on an old German novel called Venus in Fur—singular—by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch.
VANDA: I bet you read German. I bet you read it in German.
THOMAS: I did, actually. Anyway, the book was a huge scandal in 1870.
VANDA: Well, sure. Basically it's S&M porn.
THOMAS: It's not S&M porn.
VANDA: You don't think it's porn? Or porn-ish ...? For medieval times, 18-whatever, I mean?
THOMAS: Venus in Fur is a great love story. It's a serious novel. It's a central text of world literature.
VANDA: Oh. I thought from the play it had to be porn. Anyway, you don't have to tell me about sadomasochism. I'm in the theater.
THOMAS: The word "masochism" comes from Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, because of this book.
VANDA: "Masochism," "Masoch," I shoulda seen that. Wow. So S&M is like named after the guy! Cool!
THOMAS: I'm not sure that's what Sacher-Masoch had in mind.
VANDA: Sure. He thought he wrote a serious novel, everybody else thought it was porn. So like where like are we, like?
THOMAS: We are "like" at a remote inn somewhere in Carpathia, on the eastern edge of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
VANDA: The Austro-Hungarian Empire ... Remind me?
THOMAS: Well, it's complicated.
VANDA: But the place is beautiful, right?
THOMAS: It's a health spa for the rich. It's fantastic. At lights up Kushemski is reading in his room while having his morning coffee. And knock-knock-knock Vanda enters.
VANDA: And that's symbolic, right. For his character? I mean, he's reading?
THOMAS: You know, some people do read, even today. Sometimes pages made of actual paper.
VANDA: Ouch. You got me. Oh—is it "Severin" or "Severin"?
VANDA: Severin. And this Kushemski is what. Throw me some, like, adjectives.
THOMAS: He's one of the shiftless rich of his day. Well-traveled. Cultivated. Literate. Intelligent.
VANDA: All in his head.
THOMAS: If you will.
VANDA: "If you will." I love it! I mean when's the last time I heard that? So he's deestangay. Kinda like you.
THOMAS: Don't you want to know about her?
VANDA: Oh, I think I know about her. But sure, if you want.
THOMAS: I'd say VANDA is a typical young woman of her time, in spite of her professed principles.
VANDA: In spite of ...?
THOMAS: Her professed principles. She's outwardly fairly proper. Probably quite poised. Also cultivated.
VANDA: Well, all that's pretty clear from the pages. What else? Got any like insights about her? Anything I don't know? Never mind, I'll work on it. So I guess this is the so-called divan.
[The iron pipe:]
And what's this? A maypole? Phallic symbol?
THOMAS: The remains of a heating system from when this building was a sweatshop.
VANDA: Oh, wait a minute. Wait a minute.
VANDA [digging in her big bag]: My fur. She's wearing a fur stole when she comes in, isn't she?
THOMAS: She is.
VANDA [takes out a thrift-shop shawl and puts it on]: There. Okay. Fur. Soft fur. Soft fur ... So where am I, where do you want me?
THOMAS: Whatever's comfortable.
VANDA: No, tell me.
THOMAS: Why don't you stand there.
Further left. No! Further left.
VANDA: Oh, stage left.
THOMAS: Is there any other kind?
THOMAS: Do you want to read the scene over?
VANDA: Nah, let's wing it. How far should we go?
THOMAS: Just to the bottom of page three.
VANDA: That's all? Then you'll kick me out, right?
THOMAS: Let's find our way through this first.
VANDA: In other words, yes. Oh, hey, last thing. These words on page like zero, here? This quotation?
THOMAS: The epigraph.
VANDA: Yeah. "And the Lord hath smitten him and delivered him into a woman's hands." What is that?
THOMAS: It's quoted a couple of times in the novel. It's from the Book of Judith.
VANDA: Is that the Bible?
THOMAS: Yes, the Book of Judith is from the Apocrypha of the Bible.
VANDA: Sorry. Not my area. Anyway, it's pretty sexist, isn't it? "The Lord hath smitten him and delivered him into a woman's hands" ...?
THOMAS: I'm only quoting Sacher-Masoch's book.
VANDA: Yeah, but you included it here on page zero like it's the whole point. Never mind, never mind. None of my business. I'm just an actrice. Kinda bright in here. You mind if I change the lights? I hate fluorescents.
[A roll of thunder.]
THOMAS: No. Please. Make yourself at home ...
[VANDA turns off the fluorescents, goes to the fuse box, and adjusts the lights.]
I didn't realize there was a whole system up there.
VANDA: There. More dramatic. Oh, hey, last thing. It's eighteen-whatever, do you think VANDA has one of those phony transatlantic accents? Never mind. I'll just try something.
[She shakes herself out for a second, doing vocal exercises.]
KAAA! KA-KA! KA-KA! INK. SPOT. INK! SPOT!—Okay. I'm ready. Turn around. Go on, turn around. You're reading and having your coffee, you don't see me.
[THOMAS turns his back to her.]
Okay. Morning in Transylvania. Morning in Transylvania.
THOMAS: Whenever you're ready.
VANDA: Knock knock knock.
THOMAS [as KUSHEMSKI]: Come in.
VANDA [as DUNAYEV, in a perfect, polished accent]: Herr Doctor Severin von Kushemski?
[THOMAS turns around and "sees her."]
I am Vanda von Dunayev. I'm staying in the room above yours. I'm sorry to disturb you. I found this book in the birch grove last night.
[Holds out her script.]
A copy of Faust, with your bookplate inside. It was sitting at the fountain by that statue of Venus.
THOMAS [as KUSHEMSKI]: Thank you, I was just asking the maid about that.
VANDA [as DUNAYEV]: I would have sent it by maid, but I also found this rather provocative bookmark inside ...
[Takes a "card" from the "book."]
Is it a Raphael?
THOMAS [as KUSHEMSKI]: It's a Titian. Venus with Mirror. A favorite painting of mine.
VANDA [as DUNAYEV]: Yes, your Venus is as well-thumbed as your Faust. Is she faithful?
THOMAS [as KUSHEMSKI]: I'm sorry?
VANDA [as DUNAYEV]: To the original.
THOMAS [as KUSHEMSKI]: To my mind, that woman is Venus. It's a faithful copy of the painting, if that's what you mean.
VANDA [as DUNAYEV]: I can certainly understand your fascination. The plush red velvet. The dark fur outlining her naked body. The bracelets cuffing her wrists. Her golden breasts. The picture's ravishing. But is Venus covering herself with the fur—or is she opening the fur to reveal her glories?
THOMAS [as KUSHEMSKI]: We'll never know. Both, I suppose. Well, thank you for returning it.
VANDA [as DUNAYEV]: I also couldn't help noticing this intriguing poem scrawled on the back. "To Venus in Fur." Did you write this poem?
THOMAS [as KUSHEMSKI]: It's just a bit of doggerel ...
VANDA [as DUNAYEV]: Doggerel. Hardly ...
"To love and be loved—ah, what bliss!
And yet there glows a greater joy:
The torment of that woman's kiss
Who makes us her slave, her footstool, her toy,
Who renders me a cringing cur,
My goddess, my dictator, Venus in fur ..."
Interesting sentiments. I'd guard this bookmark well, if I were you.
THOMAS [as KUSHEMSKI]: I appreciate your discretion.
VANDA [as DUNAYEV]: Here's your Faust with your Venus, all safe and sound. And behold. You're complete again.
THOMAS [as KUSHEMSKI]: Would you like to sit down, Frau Dunayev?
VANDA [as DUNAYEV]: Thank you.
THOMAS [as KUSHEMSKI]: May I take your fur?
VANDA [as DUNAYEV]: That's very kind.
[He takes the shawl off her.]
THOMAS [as KUSHEMSKI]: It's Tartar, isn't it. Caucasian sable. Probably from Kazakhstan.
VANDA [as DUNAYEV]: Caucasian sable from Kazakhstan. Precisely.—Kushemski stands there staring at the fur in his hands.
[She waits for him to stare at the shawl.]
You're trembling, Herr Kushemski!
THOMAS [as KUSHEMSKI]: I'm sorry. May I ring for something?
VANDA [as DUNAYEV]: Some coffee would be lovely.
THOMAS [as KUSHEMSKI]: You can have mine.
VANDA [as DUNAYEV, mimes taking off gloves]: How nice. Two sugars, thank you.
THOMAS [miming it, as he reads the stage direction]: He pours her coffee.
Excerpted from VENUS IN FUR by DAVID IVES. Copyright © 2011 by David Ives. Excerpted by permission of Northwestern University Press.
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