If the title Venus in Fur sounds vaguely familiar you could be thinking of Velvet Underground circa 1967 or the 19th century erotic novel by Austrian man-of-letters von Sacher-Masoch that inspired Lou Reed's song. There are several screen adaptations including a recent Roman Polanski film based on the Broadway hit from American playwright David Ives that ATC has brought to the Herald Theatre.
The multiplicity of inter-related texts testify to an enduring fascination with the disturbing association between pleasure and pain. And David Ives' post-modern treatment of the topic is densely packed with literary references from The Bacchae of Euripides through to feminist critiques of S&M porn.
Aside from the kinky costumes, the show offers little in the way of titillation and the play-within-a-play narrative delivers a provocative analysis of the power dynamics within sexual relationships.
The entertainment value comes from the robust humour and the superb performances - most notably in Morgana O'Reilly's portrayal of a feisty New York actress. Bursting onstage in a whirlwind of flamboyant energy she establishes an instant connection with audience that only deepens as she teasingly demonstrates how first impressions can be deceptive and appearances conceal more than they reveal.
Playing alongside her Craig Hall has a harder job building sympathy for a writer- director who is forced to explain and justify the erotic charge he finds in cruelty and submission.
Shane Bosher's stylish direction emphasises the theatricality of the piece and Paul McLaney's sound design adds a melancholy tone to the emerging intimacy between the two characters.
What: Venus in Fur
Where: Herald Theatre, Aotea Centre to Sept 18.