Kinky is a word sometimes associated with David Ives’ play “Venus in Fur,” which is in its long-anticipated Portland premiere, by the Dramatic Repertory Company. The term seems to apply in at least two ways, referring both to the unusual behavior portrayed on stage and the twists in the plot as the two characters drop into and out of roles.

Set in a dingy rehearsal space, the 2011 one-act show starts with an encounter between an actress who arrives late for an audition and a playwright who has all but given up on finding someone right for the role of a sophisticated and domineering 19th-century woman.

The actress, disarmingly ditsy on one level, surprises the author with her readiness to dig deep into the script. As they read parts from his adaptation of a notorious erotic novel involving themes of sadism and masochism, the two begin to confront the possible origins of the new work in the experience of the author.

Under the co-direction of Peter Brown and Keith Powell Beyland, “Venus in Fur” pairs delicious comedy, including some particularly funny observations on life in the theater, with queasy drama about the power struggles within human relationships.

Casey Turner takes the role of Vanda, the sexy actress who may be more than she seems as she forces the author to rethink his work. Turner, who spends a substantial portion of the more-than-90-minute play in black lingerie, reveals her character’s movement from screechy, wise-cracking drama queen through earthy charmer, proto-feminist and haughty mistress to, finally, high-booted dominatrix. Employing her pliant facial features and strong physical presence to maximum effect in both fast-paced comic onslaughts and sizzling, seductive interludes, Turner was a spellbinding presence throughout the opening performance.

Joseph Bearor slowly surrenders the arrogance of his character to the wiles of the woman of his creative dreams. But does his quavering voice and submissive postures represent weakness or are they just another way for him to seek the upper hand? His donning of a couple of costume coats may suggest his character’s transformations, but the edges of those changes come from the actor’s plaintive performance.

Recorded rumbles of thunder surround the intimate theater stage as ancient gods seem to be commenting on the action. Those who see this production may find themselves shuddering at times as they take in this disconcerting but highly entertaining play.

 

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.