, a two-character comedy by David Ives, made a splash when it opened in New York in 2010. But what specifically was the performance of Nina Arianda as Vanda, the play’s pivotal female role. Arianda became an instant critics’ darling, receiving in the New York Times and a Tony Award.
Predictably, the play is now hitting the regional circuit — with different casts, of course. Seen here at PTC in a competent production but without Arianda’s special alchemy, the flaws in Ives’ script are quickly apparent.
There’s a clever premise here. Thomas Novacek, a young playwright, is finishing an adaptation of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s kinky 19th-century German novel, Venus im Pelz (literally, Venus in Furs), but he worries that he’ll never find the right actress to play the sexually adventurous heroine. When the likeably gauche Vanda walks in to audition, she seems (to put it mildly) unpromising. But as she begins reading, she appears almost transformed…
There’s a lot that could be made of this, but most of the time Ives offers little more than superficial cleverness — and when he tries out a few serious ideas, they’re half-baked and go nowhere. Venus runs 90 minutes, but feels like a hyperextended sketch. (A new problem that Ives could not have anticipated is that now his “Hey, let’s improvise a play!” scenes resemble the kitschy backstage world of Smash.)
For all Venus' flaws, Vanda is a marvelous role. At PTC, Jenni Putney throws herself into it with manic energy, but what emerges looks like a series of disconnected impersonations. In the plus column, Mark Alhadoff as Thomas is accomplished and winning, and the design and direction are fine. But it’s not enough to turn the show into a cogent, thoughtful play. Though Venus in Fur is not a musical, I left the theater humming a song: Miss Adelaide’s “Take Back Your Mink.”
Through June 23, Suzanne Roberts Theatre, 480 S. Broad St., 215-985-0420, .