ALBANY, N.Y. -- As David Ives' edgy dark comedy "Venus in Fur" begins, it is the end of a long, arduous frustrating day in a New York rehearsal studio for a playwright-director who has yet to find the right actress for the female role in his two-character play, "Venus in Fur," based upon Austrian writer Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's 1870 novel about dominance and submission.
As the playwright-director Thomas (Timothy Deenihan in the generally creditable production of Ives' play at Capital Repertory Theatre) is preparing to go home to the apartment he shares with his fiancee, a blonde, with a New York accent thinly evocative of Cyndi Lauper, bursts into the studio insisting on auditioning. That she shares a name, Vanda, with the female character in Thomas' play is only the first in an increasingly unsettling series of coincidences that will shape an audition that defies description and redefines the nature of reality.
Deenihan's generally benign Thomas seems a mismatch from the get-go for Jenny Strassburg's assertive, manipulative Vanda as the audition progresses and the distinctions between life within and without Thomas' play blur. As Strassburg's actress Vanda slips into stereotype, her character Vanda takes on commanding presence even as Ives' writing buckles under the weight of his invention and intellect as "Venus in Fur" makes its dash toward a mind-boggling ending.
Falzone tries to have some fun as he devises one twist after another but in director Eric Peterson's production the lines are so faintly drawn it is often difficult to know just how to take Falzone's characters, especially Scotland Yard Inspector Lestrade who, as played by Bill Tatum, is the poster child for the Peter Principle.
Nick Plakias, who replaced Nigel Gore as Holmes a day or so before the start of rehearsals, is a somewhat dull, bland Holmes.
Scott McGregor is an appropriately treacherous shapeshifting villain. It is Richard Howe's amiable, ingenuous Dr. Watson who lends this production full-bodied flavor, color and wit. What would Plakias' Holmes -- or we, for that matter -- do. without him.