While some directors work for years to bring their passion project to the stage, others find themselves with an opportunity to bring someone else's dream to life. So even though director Cody Ganger didn't initially pitch "Venus in Fur," she's excited to bring it to The Empty Space for its one-weekend-only run.
Ganger said she knew almost nothing about the show that's kicking off the Oak Street theater's 2019 season.
"I love the playwright, David Ives, and jumped at the chance to work with Ellie and Brian (Sivesind)," she wrote in an email. "It turned out to be a difficult and exciting project, so I feel very privileged to have gotten to direct it."
"Venus" follows the attempt to adapt the 1870 novel "Venus in Furs" by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. The Austrian author's name may not be familiar but his legacy is: The term masochism was coined based on his work concerning related topics.
Real-life couple Brian and Ellie Sivesind play, respectively, playwright/director Thomas Novachek and actress Vanda Jordan, who comes in at the last minute to audition for the lead role of Wanda von Dunayev.
"It starts as a very straight-forward audition, with a playwright-director trying to find the right actress to play his leading lady," Ganger writes. "Vanda, our actress, enters and seems like she will be terrible but ends up being quite good, and the audition stretches on longer and longer."
Calling it a "comedic, erotic, surreal thriller/feminist revenge fantasy," she said the production plays upon the natural power dynamics of theater.
"An older man and younger woman in the position of director and actress — it appears that our actress would be quite vulnerable in the situation, but those power dynamics get completely upended in surprising ways."
Ganger didn't want to give away too much more about the plot, encouraging people to see it for themselves Friday or Saturday night. (Note: Based on mature content, the play is for adults only.)
The director did share that she feels a connection between "Venus" and the last show she directed "Measure for Measure" for the Kern County Shakespeare Festival at Bakersfield College.
Both shows have relevance in modern society, she said, noting "Measure" is Shakespeare’s #MeToo play and this production is about power dynamics.
"There is no victimhood — only pure rage at the patriarchy and the misogynistic default of the theatre," Ganger wrote. "Vanda says, 'You don’t have to tell me about sadomasochism. I’m in the theatre!' It’s a funny line, but she means it.
"I want people to take away that #TimesUp."