Theatergoers in a funk about January cold can escape to the heat—romantic or psychological—of two winning Hub offerings. “Once” at the Boston Opera House pairs the unassuming Dublin love story of the 2007 affecting film of the same name with inspired musicianship. Passion tangles with masochism in the provocative play “Venus in Fur” at the B.U. Theatre.
At first glance, “Once” might seem an unlikely choice for a hit musical. After all, the film and the 2012 Tony Award-winning musical focus on a somewhat familiar story of friendship, romance and the parting of a home-based street singer-songwriter and a piano-playing visitor charmed by his music and his personality. Here the home base is Dublin, the singer-songwriter is a young vacuum repairman named Guy and the visitor is a Czech immigrant young woman, named Girl, who makes her living selling flowers. Reflecting the delicate nature of their relationship is a signature song “Falling Slowly”—which won a well-deserved Academy Award.
What really sets the show apart is the beauty of its music. The highly personal music of Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, the leads in the film, movingly captures the evolution of Guy and Girl’s relationship—one that the score creators themselves shared for a time off screen as well. In the music, the cast double as performers and musicians—in this national tour Stuart Ward on guitar and Dani de Waal on piano. Set as the playbill indicates “to celebrate downtown,” the thin plot of the Edna Walsh book takes on a degree of enchantment thanks to the vividness of designer Bob Crowley’s bar (a conception first developed at the American Repertory Theatre) and Natasha Katz’s poetic lighting.
While the musical—at over two hours—seems long compared to the considerably short film, the enlargement of the supporting roles to reflect the community in which the music and romance evolve does much to compensate. Under out-director John Tiffany’s careful guidance, Ward convinces as a musical soul struggling to find both personal and professional fulfilment, and De Waal proves a sweet standout as an understated muse who champions his music, recognizes the chemistry they share but puts responsibility and caring—especially for her daughter Ivanka—above all else.
Particularly memorable among the musician-characters that give texture and resonance to the community evoked by the show are violinist Claire Wellin as Reza, Girl’s friend and a romancer in her own right, Evan Harrington as volatile ukulele- brandishing Billy and cellist Benjamin Magnuson as conflicted Bank Manager, who eventually admits to his interest in men. The ensemble display sharp technique on a wide variety of instruments throughout-with the first act-closing “Gold” a highlight. The talents of these versatile actor-musicians and the charms of its spirited score give “Once” its distinctive luster.
Once, national tour presented by Broadway in Boston at the Opera House, through January 19 .800-982-2787 or www.BroadwayinBoston.com.
Can sexual attraction and love become a face-off for power?
Austrian author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch must have thought so when he penned his controversial 1870 novel “Venus in Furs” (“Venus Im Pelz”).Talented dramatist David Ives (“All in the Timing”) , clearly inspired by the master-slave and dominance-submission dynamics of Sacher-Masoch’s book (the term “masochism,’’ of course, deriving from his name), seems to concur in his 2010 (2011 on Broadway) “Venus in Fur.” A fan of ambiguity and shifting perspectives in his own work, Ives took the European play-with-in-a play set-up to a fictional New York City rehearsal room, strikingly well-detailed by Matt Saunders for the Huntington Theatre Company premiere of the play.
Fictional director Thomas, frustrated and exhausted by a long and unproductive day of auditions for the bewitching and enigmatic character of Wanda von Dunayev in his adaptation of the Sacher-Masoch book, is surprised by the last-minute entrance of a young actress-complete with her own large bag of costumes- who turns out to be as fascinating and mysterious as the role she seeks. Just as Wanda becomes more powerful as the novel proceeds, so too the actress – tellingly named Vanda – rises from initially intimidated auditioner to insightful play reader and eventually a force as compelling in her own way as Thomas himself.
Along the way, Ives brilliantly turns the reading and the changing banter between director and auditioner into a visceral game of wits on one level and a no-holes barred examination of the relationships between men and women on another (not surprisingly, Roman Polanski has made a film version with Ives, soon to be in general release in America). At the same time- in dialogue like “You don’t have to tell me about sadomasochism. I’m in the theater”—the verbally fierce play (which Edward Albee likely admires) provides an incisive look at the power plays that can often govern the stage. Ives’ very adult play-with high black boots that “Kinky Boots’’s Lola would respect—brings remarkable candor to issues of gender , submission, dominance and passion without nudity. The title goddess of love may be hovering over the proceedings—indeed, is alluring Vanda actually Venus? M.L.Geiger’s lighting and Darron L West’s sound design do a lot to support that possibility.
Most of all, under Daniel Goldstein’s seamless direction, the ambiguities and shifting certainties about Thomas and Vanda on the one hand and the essences of men and women on the other, find rich expression in the strong performances of Chris Kipiniak and Andrea Syglowski. Kipiniak captures the God-playing tendencies of some directors and his vulnerability and raw desires as Vanda seems to find the upper hand. Syglowski is a revelation as chameleon-like Vanda, by turns seemingly eccentric, down-to-earth, sophisticated (with a fine European accent to boot), dangerous and commanding. To some theatergoers, “Venus in Fur” may be a well-written dirty pleasure. Unquestionable is the delicious ambiguity of Ives’ power study and its exuberant area premiere by Huntington Theatre Company.
Venus in Fur, Huntington Theatre Company, B.U. Theatre, through February 2. 617-266-0800 or huntingtontheatre.org0
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