ALBANY -- "Venus in Fur," which opens Tuesday at Capital Repertory Theatre in Albany after preview performances tonight through Sunday, is a two-character play in which the female role gets all the attention.
But, as any student of comedy teams knows, the guy who gets all the laughs and attention couldn't do it without a terrific partner who plays the straight man. Ask Jerry Lewis about Dean Martin, Lou Costello about Bud Abbot or Stan Laurel about Oliver Hardy.
At Capital Rep the role of Thomas is played by Tim Deenihan, who is no stranger to area stages. He's performed at Capital Rep in productions of "The Seafarer," "Betrayal" and "Race." At StageWorks in Hudson, he's appeared in "Tomorrow in the Battle," an experience he calls an artistic highlight of his career.
He describes them as "explosive roles" and says, "in this play she has the more explosive moments."
However Deenihan is unconcerned about the chance he might seem overshadowed. Indeed, he relishes the challenge. He explains that "Thomas' journey is huge but subtle. It's exciting for me to have to make that shift of character and do it so quietly."
The plot of "Venus in Fur" revolves about Deenihan's character, Thomas Novachek, auditioning actresses for a play he's written and is directing. The
play is based on the classic 1870 novel "Venus in Furs" written by Leopold Sacher-Masoch. The sexual nature of the book led to the term Masochism.
Vanda Jordan (played by Jenny Strassburg), a nervous and seemingly needy actress, arrives late for the audition. She coaxes Thomas into letting her read from the script and soon he joins her in acting out some of the more erotic scenes from the play. As they role play, shifts of power and dominance take place, blurring the line between art and real life.
Deenihan cautions that the play, while sexually charged, is not lurid and there is no nudity.
"I worry that because the material is associated with S&M and the publicity photos play up the sexy nature of the show, people will not realize this is a very funny play," he said in an interview. "The playwright (David Ives) is a brilliant and literate writer who also a very funny playwright."
He insists that the kinky behavior in the play and book is actually a way of exploring the need of people to feel.
"I believe, as a human, the thing that makes us such magnificent creatures is our ability to empathize, our ability to feel for ourselves and the range of emotions of which we are capable," Deenihan said. "We all need to know we are alive and living in this moment to experience, and ideally, celebrate the magnificence of being able to feel."
After a pause, he continues. "The question is -- how do people get there?" Answering his own question he says, "Different people get there in different ways."
Deenihan lives the independent, passionate life about which he preaches. He describes himself and his wife as "tumbleweeds."
"We go where we are blown," he says.
For 11 years they were blown to England where he studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. After he completed his studies they stayed in London where he built up an impressive resume of stage and television work.
The family returned to the States eight years ago. He quotes his wife who says "We left as kids. We returned with kids."
They have three teenage daughters and Deenihan says with pride, "I feel very fortunate as a person with a daughter in college to be still able to take acting jobs."
He's especially proud, he says, when the jobs are as challenging and as rewarding as "Venus in Fur."
Bob Goepfert is contributing writer and theater critic at the Troy (N.Y.) Record.