Set in a dingy rehearsal room at the end of a long day of frustrating auditions, David Ives' clever "Venus in Fur" opens with playwright and director Thomas (Tyler Pierce) getting ready to lock up.
A harried, breathless actress rushes in, embodying all the annoying attributes that Thomas has just railed about on the phone to his fiancée.
There are some easily imagined resolutions to this familiar setup at the B Street Theatre Mainstage, but this journey has several surprising switchbacks, and it unfolds in thoroughly entertaining and unforeseen ways.
Coming off more like a pole dancer at the Bada Bing! than an off-Broadway hopeful, Vanda (Dana Brooke) won't take "no" for an answer and bum-rushes Thomas into an impromptu audition. Thomas is casting his adaptation of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's 1870 novella "Venus in Furs" which, along with earlier writings by the Marquis de Sade, helped create the term "sadomasochism."
"It's basically porn, right?" Vanda cracks early on. The question gets a giggle and Vanda earns plenty of jokey laughs with her impertinence and plainspokenness.
She wears a tight black leather skirt and bright red bra during much of the show, though she occasionally slips on a long, white period gown during the audition.
As completely out of place and out of her league as Vanda seems, once she starts reading the script, a transformation occurs.
Brooke's mysterious Vanda blazes with energy and humor, continually revealing more of who and what she really is. Pierce's Thomas also transforms, shedding his confident artistic pose for more compelling vulnerability.
As the audition progresses, Vanda suddenly knows much more about the text, Thomas, and his fiancée, than she should.
Thomas should go home, but he can't leave.
The familiar irony of cool intellect being brought to its knees (literally) by sexual physicality never gets old and it receives a thorough workout here, with the tentative pas de deux generating instant heat as Thomas and Vanda warily assess each other.
The faultless performances from Pierce and Brooke are essential to the production's intimacy and intensity.
In the fictional play that Thomas is casting, a character named Severin von Kusiemski becomes infatuated with Wanda von Dunajew after meeting her in a posh hotel resort where they're staying. Afterward, he asks to be her slave.
Thomas' play-within-the-play contains multileveled allusions to and depictions of sadomasochism (the very tame physical edges of the endeavor, one suspects) while delving into the psychology of the experience.
At times knowingly a half-step away from a Mel Brooks satire, "Venus in Fur's" engrossing performances along with Buck Busfield's smart, clear direction successfully distills the production's drama and comedy.
Ives' play volleys the idea of just who really has the power in voluntary subjugation back and forth before declaring a winner.
Sacher-Masoch's book ends with a women's rights assessment that's ahead of its time, stating that women and men can only be true companions when "she has the same rights as he and is his equal in education and work."
But that isn't Vanda's goal here.
VENUS IN FUR
What: B Street Theatre presents the California premiere of David Ives' sexually and socially provocative play starring longtime company member Dana Brooke as Vanda.
When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays; 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays; 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. Saturdays; 2 p.m. Wednesdays and Sundays. Through Aug. 11.
Where: B Street Theatre Mainstage, 2711 B St., Sacramento
Tickets: $23-$35, $5 student rush
Information: (916) 443-5300, www.bstreettheatre.org
Running time: 85 minutes with no intermission Call The Bee's Call The Bee's Marcus Crowder, (916) 321-1120. Follow him on Twitter @marcuscrowder.