Circle Theatre VENUS IN FUR Review – Hail Aphrodite!

An actor, walking into an audition room, never knows quite what to expect. The director, too, hopes to be surprised but never knows who is going to walk through the door. VENUS IN FUR, captures the story of a director who is clueless that the actress who shows up hours late to audition will turn all his expectations upside down.

An Audition for a Play Grows Into Something Huge

I saw this show at the Goodman Theatre a few years ago and first fell in love with the script by David Ives. It’s chock full of humor and goes deep into its subject matter without ever being too clever for its own good. VENUS IN FUR takes a look at gender dynamics and sexual preferences taken from the 1870 novel Venus in Furs by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch.

The director, Thomas, has written a play based on this book and is seeking to cast the leading lady, Vanda. We first meet him on the phone complaining to his fiancée that he has yet to find his “perfect” actress to play Vanda. She has to be young, but also smart enough to understand his script. Then, barreling in soaking wet and hours late, we meet an actress named Vanda. Is the name simply a coincidence? Or are there stronger powers at play?

For the next ninety minutes, Thomas and Vanda engage in an audition that slowly blurs the line between what’s from the pages of the script and what’s truly happening between the two. It’s a fight for dominance. The power dynamic flips back and forth - slowly at first, but then so quickly that by the end it’s hard to tell who will end up on top.

Circle Theatre VENUS IN FUR
Arti Ishak as Vanda Photo: Cody Jolly Photography
Circle Theatre VENUS IN FUR
Zach Livingston as Thomas, Arti Ishak (background) as Vanda Photo: Cody Jolly Photography

Circle Theatre Brings Powerful Performances in an Intimate Space

Performed in the intimate Heartland Studio theater space, this production of VENUS IN FUR stirs us in a way that a performance in the large Albert Theater at Goodman cannot easily do. We catch every single little detail up close - from the headshots on the director’s desk to the pointed looks Vanda so often gives Thomas as they dissect his script.

Arti Ishak and Zach Livingston are fantastic as Vanda and Thomas, respectively. Ishak makes brilliant character choices under Charlotte Drover’s direction. She starts as a seemingly absent-minded twenty-something. Then she completely transforms from this flaky persona into a well-to-do woman as she dips into audition mode to play Vanda to Thomas’ Kusiemski. Her transformation absolutely thrills.

Livingston plays the part of a pretentious and slightly misogynistic director all too well. As Ishak picks apart his characters in his play, she also slowly picks apart his own life and desires. The way Livingston either fights with Vanda or falls flat against her attacks is incredibly dynamic. The two bounce off each other with undeniable chemistry. We are captivated by their relationship.

Circle Theatre VENUS IN FUR
Arti Ishak as Vanda Photo: Cody Jolly Photography
Circle Theatre VENUS IN FUR
Arti Ishak and Zach Livingston Photo: Cody Jolly Photography

Sexy and Thought Provoking

VENUS IN FUR is about sex, power, and how we perceive gender. It’s a fabulous script performed by an outstanding cast. It keeps you engaged until the very end.



Note:  An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago.


Now through March 19
Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8 p.m.
Sundays at 2:30 p.m.


Heartland Studio
7016 N. Glenwood Ave.
Chicago, IL 60626


Tickets are $28 and available at


Cody Jolly Photography

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