A whip-smart production of American David Ives' hit play, Venus in Fur, opens the RMTC Warehouse season with style, laughs, and more than a little kink.

'What unfolds in Ives' crackling play is a power struggle that's intricate, funny, and by turns sexy and scary.' - Joff Schmidt

The play (a 2012 Tony nominee) takes its inspiration from the 1870 novella Venus in Furs, by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. He's the man whose predilection for being beaten and humiliated inspired the term “masochism” (what term described Blue Bombers fans before that, I don't know). The novella tells the story of a man whose sole ambition is to become the willing slave of a cruel woman - and what happens when his dream comes true.

In Ives' adaptation, we're introduced to playwright/director Thomas (Matthew Edison) in the midst of trying to cast the role of the dominatrix Vanda in his stage adaptation of von Sacher-Masoch's story. Just when all seems hopeless, in through the door bursts one more hopeful - an actor coincidentally named Vanda (Allison Brennan), who's certain she's perfect for the part.

The power dynamic initially seems clear - the erudite Thomas is in control as the director, and valley-girlish Vanda is desperate for the part. But as the two rehearse scenes from the play - and Vanda the actor increasingly dissects Thomas, his play, and Vanda the character - the sense of who's really in charge quickly becomes very fluid. What unfolds in Ives' crackling play is a power struggle that's intricate, funny, and by turns sexy and scary.

Allison Brennan & Matthew Edison in Venus in Fur

In Venus in Fur the sense of who's really in charge quickly becomes very fluid. (Dylan Hewlett)

Director Christopher Brauer and his two-person cast successfully wrestle the challenging material into submission. The back-and-forth in the 90 minute play runs briskly, and the production capitalizes on the ample humour in Ives' clever dialogue - and on the kink as well, with credible, complex, and steamy chemistry between Brennan and Edison.

What the production fails to do, though, is make this seem like a fair fight - but I suspect this is more a flaw in the script rather than with the production. Edison delivers a very fine and layered performance as Thomas. But it's apparent from the start that even though he's nominally in charge, he's outmatched by Vanda, who literally storms onstage and owns the room - and the audience's attention - from the moment she does.

Brennan's performance seizes that upper hand and runs with it - she's got fantastic comic timing; a fearlessness in playing the character for bold, broad comedy when she needs to; and the ability to turn from slinky to domineering on a dime.

As for who ultimately comes out on top in this S&M-tinged pas de deux - well, I'll leave that for you to find out. But a surprising ending is just one of the things that makes Venus in Fur a seductive piece of theatre - and well worth submitting to.