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"You don't have to tell me about sadomasochism, darling. I'm in the theater.".
— Vanda Jordan

Venus In Fur is a one-act two-person play written by David Ives and is, in part, based on the book Venus in Furs by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, the novel which is credited with inspiring masochism both as a term and a kink.

Thomas Novachek, a playwright/director, has just spent a long day unsuccessfully auditioning actresses to play the part of Wanda von Dunayev in his adaptation of Venus in Furs. Just as he is about to leave for the day, a woman named Wanda (pronounced "Vanda") Jordan bursts in, claiming she's got an audition. Despite Thomas not being able to find her name on the list of auditionees and his general irritation at the situation, Wanda convinces him to not only allow her the audition, but also to be her acting partner. As the pair read through the script, Wanda demonstrates an uncanny knack for the role, the lines of control and what is real and fiction become increasingly blurred.

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The play was first performed in 2010 off-Broadway starring Nina Adriana as Vanda and Wes Bentley as Thomas. The production then transferred to Broadway in 2011 with Hugh Dancy replacing Bentley, where it earned a Tony nomination for "Best Play" and Adriana won the Tony award for "Best Actress in a Play". In 2017, the play premiered in London starring Natalie Dormer and David Oakes. The play has also been produced in Australia, Canada and Lebanon, and a French-language film version was released in 2013 starring Emmanuelle Seigner and Mathieu Almaric, directed by Roman Polanski.


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This play provides examples of:

  • All Take and No Give: In the play within a play, both characters accuse the other of turning their "relationship" into this.
  • Ambiguous Ending: Who exactly is Vanda? And just what is she planning on doing with Thomas?
  • Anachronism Stew: Averted by the costumes and props in Vanda's bag. One of the first things that tips us off that everything's not quite as she claims is the amount of care she's put into finding a period-appropriate dress to wear.
  • Asshole Victim: Thomas looks set to become this at the end.
  • Badass Boast: Both Thomas and Vanda get one.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Both sets of characters thrive on this.
  • Berserk Button: For Thomas, insulting or even questioning his writing. Or just being a bad actress. For Vanda, the degradation of women.
  • Betty and Veronica: It's hinted several times that this is how Thomas sees his relationships with his fiancee Stacy (the "Betty") and Vanda (the "Veronica").
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  • Bowdlerisation: Just barely, but the fact that Thomas and Vanda mime and narrate several of the actions instead of carrying them out at least to begin with means the play is this to the novel it's based on.
  • Cat Fight: It never happens but Vanda threatens Stacy with one of these while Thomas is on the phone to her.
  • The Chessmaster: Vanda. Whoever she is, she managed to effectively manipulate Thomas into literally surrendering himself to her, as well as potentially harming his relationship with his fiancee.
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: Vanda appears to be one when she first arrives. It eventually becomes clear that she's not.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: When Vanda first arrives, one appears in virtually every sentence.
  • Comically Missing the Point: At various points, Thomas "breaks character" to point out that Vanda's mixing up real life and his script. Of course, she's doing so on purpose.
  • Compressed Adaptation: The play-within-a-play seems to be this. It moves Severin and Wanda's relationship along a little more quickly than in the novel, introduces the Greek much sooner, and (as Vanda points out) omits the Framing Device.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Thomas. Vanda gets a few moments as well.
  • Deconstruction: Arguably, the entire play is one of the uneven power relationships often held between men and women, particularly in the entertainment industry. It's also something of a deconstruction as to the nature of female roles and how females are perceived in the entertainment industry as well.
  • Diabolus ex Machina: A version of this occurs at the end where it's implied that Vanda is, in fact, the goddess Venus and she's about to deliver a world of hurt to Thomas. Not that he doesn't entirely deserve it, mind you...
  • Empathic Environment: Throughout the entire play, there's a thunderstorm going on outside which intensifies as things get crazier.
  • Evil vs. Evil: YMMV as to the "evil" of either Thomas or Vanda but both have their moments of pure undiluted assholery.
  • Fanservice: Arguably the entire play could be seen as this. It is based on one of the most controversially erotic novels ever written, after all...
  • The Film of the Play: In 2013, Roman Polanski adapted the play into a film starring Emmanuelle Seigner and Mathieu Almaric.
  • Foreshadowing: There are an increasing number of hints that Vanda is lying about at least parts of her backstory. For instance, she claims early on that she barely had any time to read through the script (which she somehow has a full copy of). When the pair start acting, Thomas needs the script more than she does. Then there's the whole "rites to Bacchus" conversation near the start that is repeated at the end.
  • The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You: A rare in-universe example occurs when Vanda begins to increasingly merge the reality of the audition with Thomas' script. Starting with changing the male lead's name to "Thomas"...
  • Gun Struggle: Happens towards the end of the play-within-a-play.
  • He-Man Woman Hater: Thomas demonstrates this attitude within the first 30 seconds of the play. It doesn't end well for him.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Thomas. Hoo boy, Thomas...
  • I Have You Now, My Pretty: The ending can be played this way. Also occurs several times in the play-within-a-play.
  • Imagine Spot: Vanda and Thomas improvise one of these based on a scene in the novel for Thomas to write into his play.
  • Implausible Deniability: Vanda tells Thomas that the reason she's being so difficult towards him was because she met his fiancee in the showers at the gym and the fiancee asked her to check Thomas' suitability as a potential husband. When Thomas points out that his fiancee doesn't shower at the gym, Vanda's answer is basically "are you sure?"
  • It's Not Porn, It's Art: Thomas is insistent about this, in regard to both his play and the original novel.
  • Karmic Death: One of the possible interpretations of the ending.
  • Knife Nut: Not necessarily a nut, but Vanda does draw a real knife on Thomas at one point instead of just miming...
  • Large Ham: Vanda has opportunities for this when she arrives and at the end.
  • Madonna–Whore Complex: "Thomas" in the play-within-a-play appears to be suffering from this with regards to "Wanda". As with most other tropes like this, it's thoroughly deconstructed in the audition.
  • Malicious Misnaming: Vanda changes the script to have the male character share Thomas' name, and while not exactly "misnaming", her calling him "Tommy" at the end signals both to him and the audience that the mess is about to spectacularly hit the fan.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Vanda's entire character.
  • Mood Whiplash: In keeping with the play's attempt to keep the audience on their toes with regards to what's real, the play moves with increasing speed between being a comedy, a thriller, then back to a comedy...then in the last 5 minutes things just get weird...
  • Most Writers Are Writers
  • Noodle Incident: Vanda provides a whole list of them when she first arrives as she's describing her journey there.
  • Oh, Crap!: Thomas has these repeatedly.
  • Precision F-Strike: Delivered by Thomas to Vanda as part of his "The Reason You Suck" Speech.
  • Stripperific: Vanda's main outfit (when not wearing a costume) consists of a leather "dominatrix"-styled outfit. Considering the nature of the play, it's arguably intended to Lampshade this very trope.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Thomas delivers a minor one to Vanda after she questions his writing. She responds by giving him a truly epic one at the end.
  • Title Drop: They get it out of the way fairly early.
  • The Unfair Sex: Discussed and Lampshaded in-universe. Vanda and Thomas "break character" several times through the audition to have arguments over which character holds the power in the relationship presented in the play-within-a-play, and which character is subsequently worse than the other.
  • The Vamp: Zigzagged. "Wanda" in Thomas' play is certainly at least partly this, which Wanda takes enormous offence to, while Vanda in the audition probably would be this if not for the fact that Thomas is such an Asshole Victim.
  • Villain Protagonist: Depending on your view of who exactly the protagonist is, this trope could apply.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Played With. In the play-within-a-play, "Thomas" is nearly driven over the edge as "Wanda" teases him with discussions on how handsome a particular rival is. In the audition, Vanda seduces Thomas enough to convince him to phone his fiancee and tell her he's not going to be home that night without saying why. Nothing comes of either instance (presumably) but the doubt is definitely there.


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