Venus Theatre’s new tour de force production of Migdalia Cruz’s Fur opens with a characteristically jarring scene: Michael, a white-suited animal lover, wheels a giant industrial strength hand cart into a space dominated by an imposing metal cage. Once at the cage door, Michael deposits his payload – an unusually hairy woman named Citrona.
This horrific scenario – expressed through a simple yet powerful piece of staging – well sums up the raw dramatic power of Fur, and the unique ability of Director Deborah Randall to use the most basic elements of theatre in order to create something simple, yet profound; organic, yet surreal. Cruz’s electric writing, animated by marvelous acting and Randall’s high protein staging, is as gripping and experimental as anything you will find this side of Off-Off-Broadway.
That there is a poetic script and elegant staging is not unusual for Venus, which remains the most consistent and high-quality platform for avante garde theatre in the DC area. What is unusual about this show, however, is that Deborah Randall not only directs and designs the props and costumes (both of which are par for the course) she also stars as Citrona herself. Any notion that this is some kind of vanity move is quickly dispatched by Randall’s first moments on stage, where she immediately proves herself to be in possession of a command performance.
As unusual a play as Fur is, it is nevertheless based on a good old-fashioned love triangle. First, there is Michael (played with great depth and empathy by Grant Cloyd), the aforementioned animal enthusiast, whose fur fetish magnetically draws him to Citrona, a hirsute sideshow attraction whose mother has sold her to her new husband/captor. For her part, Citrona wants nothing to do with Michael (probably because of the whole forced imprisonment thing) – but is obsessed with Nena (A compelling Karin Rosnizeck), a sensual animal trapper who is hired by Michael to bring Citrona fresh rabbits to eat. And Nena loves Michael with a cultish devotion that is matched only by her passion for killing animals.
Fur is a play dominated by the relationships between the three characters more so than by plot twists or rapid changes in action. Thus, there are times when the show can seem slow or sticky. However, these are the moments when it is best to enjoy the brooding, erotic poetry of Migdalia Cruz’s writing. None of the participants in this bizarre love triangle ever give up, and their passion, whether it is violent or sexual, is so raw and rooted that it shakes you to your very core.
Given the centrality of the text and the limited physical space, acting is truly important in this production. Fortunately, all three of the actors in Fur are highly talented. Deborah Randall as Citrona is utterly fearless. The very hairy woman hates her body, but loves her sexuality. She hates her life, but she lives with a passion. Randall nails these contradictions and creates one of the most memorable stage characters I have ever seen. For their part, Grant Cloyd and Karin Rosnizeck hold their own against Randall, who, leaping about her cage in a repurposed monkey suit, tends to draw the most attention. Still, Cloyd is a force to be reckoned with as the deeply insecure and possibly sociopathic Michael. And although Rosnizeck appeared to struggle a bit in finding her character initially, she too found moments of pure longing that were positively magic.
The set is dominated by a massive cage in which Citrona spends the vast majority of the show. One of the most remarkable things about Venus is how they are always able to transform their tiny storefront space into an entire surrealistic universe. In this case, that universe is Michael’s basement. Lighting and Scenic Designer Amy Belschner-Rhodes creates a cold and claustrophobic environment where lights flicker and sand drifts in from the post-apocalyptic desert-scape outside. Perennial Venus collaborator Neil McFadden provides the sound design, a constant, haunting mixture of wind and blowing sand. Oh, and some riffs on Beatles songs, because Citrona loves The Beatles.
In her director’s note, Randall writes that “The brilliance of Migdalia Cruz lies in her musicality. It’s difficult to talk about or dissect that in any way because as soon as we begin down some literal path we are excluding something nearly impossible to qualify.” Indeed. However, what is undeniably essential about Fur is its powerful expression of that most awful aspect of the human condition: unrequited love. And were you strip out all the extreme elements in Cruz’s story, you would be left with the yearnings of the heart. This is what the play expresses, and this is what Venus expresses beautifully.
Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.