It wasn’t Anne Desclos’s notorious bondage novel The Story of O that came up in conversation at the Belfry Theatre Thursday night, as anyone might reasonably have predicted before Oct. 26.
It was The Story of G that inevitably arose before the start of Venus in Fur, David Ives’ literate, witty and playfully erotic power play starring Celine Stubel and Vincent Gale as an actor and the controlling writer-director she auditions for.
“The timing is so uncanny that this would happen to be slotted just as things have evolved with Jian Ghomeshi,” observed Elizabeth, a patron who requested her last name not be used.
It was a coincidence, since theatres typically program their seasons months in advance. The Belfry’s 2014-2015 season was announced last spring.
Still, the G word was unavoidable at the opening night sponsors reception given the nature of the kinky, lacerating comedy. This despite the fact it would be a stretch to literally equate what transpires onstage with the allegations of sexual assault against the kinky host of CBC Radio’s Q that led to his being fired Oct. 26 after the network viewed “graphic evidence” he injured a woman.
“There’s no connection as far as what he’s into, but there’s a connection insofar as it’s about the relationship between men and women,” director Michael Shamata said.
“And obviously what he has been accused of is a very extreme example of the imbalance of power between men and women, which is not irrelevant to this play.”
While no one showed up with whips and chains or wearing a leather corset, the mere mention of the sado-masochism addressed onstage elicited smiles and cheeky comments.
“Fifty Shades of Grey!” chirped Sea Cider Farm and Ciderhouse founder Kristen Jordan, unleashing the first thing that sprang to mind. “Don’t tell me the ending!”
We could only assume that Ken Foster, a theatre buff visiting from Vancouver, might change his mind about the current state of live theatre after seeing Venus in Fur.
“I raised my children with theatre, but it’s not relevant any more because most of the plays are not geared to contemporary concepts,” lamented Foster, 65, whose children are now in their 20s.
“Young people’s brains work too fast, so it’s boring to them. They’re used to seeing so much information so fast visually that theatre for them is like plodding through what was relevant years ago.”
It was heartening, then, to see so many younger theatregoers attending a show that, in a twist of bizarre irony, has gained newfound relevance with the Ghomeshi scandal igniting social media.
Reassuringly, the pre-and post-show music was a product of the next generation. It was composed by Vaughn Stokes, whose acclaimed father Tobin Stokes did the show’s music and sound-design.
It wasn’t just Venus in Fur’s erotic allure that attracted sponsors, many of whom sang the praises of the Belfry in general.
“My daughter was doing Belfry 101 a few years ago and we had to stay up until 11 to come and get her so we thought we might as well become subscribers,” recalled Graham Isenegger, the CIBC Wood Gundy portfolio adviser who, with business partner Neil Chappell, is sponsoring a Belfry show for the second year in a row, after last year’s Good Night Desdemona, Good Morning Juliet.
“We were looking for something to support in the community and this came to top of mind because they run such a good business.”