Though it sometimes appeared likely never to happen, “Venus in Fur” has finally made it to the stage in Portland. It’s taken five years.
Keith Powell Beyland, the artistic director and founder of Portland’s Dramatic Repertory Company, has considered programming the play since actress Nina Arianda won a Tony Award in 2012 for best actress for her role as Vanda in the play-within-a-play about a bold actress who crashes an audition and impresses the director with her brashness.
Co-director Peter Brown was getting late-night food with a group of actors while watching the Tony Awards the night that Arianda won her award. Among the actors noshing alongside him that evening was Casey Turner, who turned to the others and said that she hoped Beyland would secure the rights to the play because she wanted to play Vanda so much, Brown recalled.
“This production with Keith Powell Beyland and Casey Turner, was always going to happen, come hell or high water, actor schedule or stroke,” said Brown.
The Portland play was delayed by all those factors — actors’ schedules created conflicts, and then Beyland had a stroke in fall 2015. His recovery progressing, Beyland has returned to directing with the help of Brown, who helps articulate Beyland’s vision for the actors.
The play concludes its two-weekend run with performances Wednesday to Sunday at the studio theater at Portland Stage Company.
Vanessa Beyland, the director’s wife, said the play is important to her husband, and its production marks a milestone in his recovery. It was among the plays that actors read in a benefit for his recovery, she noted. “It has been one he has wanted to direct and didn’t have the opportunity until now, and thankfully his good friend and colleague Peter Brown was available to work with him,” she said. “Keith saw it on Broadway and thought is was funny, literate, witty and everything a good night of theater can be, so he knew it would be a great fit for DRC.”
The plays stars Turner as the brash actress and Joseph Bearor as Thomas, a hot-shot director and playwright. Turner is a regular on the Portland theater scene, and Bearor returns after five years on the West Coast, where he worked in TV and film.
Turner’s character is outlandish. She is everything the director hates about actresses. She is ill-prepared, seemingly unintelligent, speaks in an annoying voice and is inappropriately costumed. But she’s persistent and wears him down until he agrees to give her an audition. She wins the part.
“The play is Vanda’s audition, where they act out several scenes from Thomas’ play,” Brown said. “It’s a delicious power struggle, full of intrigue, sexual politics and comedy. It is most definitely, as the Broadway promotion went, ‘good kinky fun.’ Joe and Casey are perfectly matched and have amazing chemistry. It’s been so much fun watching them work.”
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday
WHERE: Studio Theater, Portland Stage Company, 25A Forest Ave., Portland
TICKETS & INFO: $10 to $35; dramaticrep.org