The usual reader hired to help in auditions has already gone home, so the playwright begins to read the other part and the tryout quickly moves out of the script, into their personal patter, then back and forth for the 90-minute one-act. The woman, it begins to appear, knows more than she lets on - about the play, the playwright, the gender politics that can dictate a relationship.
Or does she? Perhaps the best, and creepiest, part of Venus in Fur is that as it moves along in a quick 90 minutes, it becomes harder to tell what this woman knows and what she fakes, and whether truth plays any meaningful part in what she says. The script the two are reading is about love and cruelty, pleasure and sexual domination - a stylized late 19th-century dive into sado-masochism that also strangely begins to reflect the dynamic between these two people who've just met.
Ives, whose portfolio of plays includes the hilarious All In the Timing, brings his sense of the absurd to Venus in Fur, which is very funny even as it becomes more gripping.
Arianda, with her pouting lips, long blond hair, curvy legs and great leather get-up, is a disco ball of emotions: here, she throws off unbridled sensuality, there, she's a lacerating bitch, and in between, there's a wide range - whatever randomly hits her partner is all he can react to in the moment. Dancy stands up to Arianda's performance in every instance; he is alternately vulnerable, insistent, angry and confused.
When the two characters reach the hottest parts of the play they are reading, it's as if the last little bit of their real-life social filters suddenly rev, and Venus in Fur is all the more erotic for the brakes they suddenly pump.
Anita Yavich's costume design is especially impressive because the script requires much of it to be squished into a carry-bag. Walter Bobbie's direction takes Ives' story to its ripest level. If you go, don't dress too warmly. There's enough heat on stage to carry the show through winter.
Contact staff writer Howard Shapiro at 215-854-5727, firstname.lastname@example.org, or #philastage on Twitter. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/howardshapiro. Hear his reviews at the Classical Network, www.wwfm.org.
Venus in Fur is at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th St., New York.