As Thomas, the author-director, and Vanda, the actor, play out his script, secrets of both are gradually revealed. Thomas shares several kinky fetishes with his hero, an Austrian nobleman. Vanda shares more than a name with the mysterious dominatrix she is playing. Dominance shifts between the two as Vanda takes control and her real identity is finally revealed.
Director Walter Bobbie has collaborated with Ives on many projects, including the Broadway version of "White Christmas," and this play is certainly a switch for them. Bobbie's staging is full of surprises, from the startling opening to the endless props that Vanda pulls out of her bottomless carryall. His two actors play off each other with precise timing, inflection, and body language, generating carnal heat and comic sparks in equal measure.
Arianda is a performer to watch. She switches from the kooky, out-of-control actor to the cool, totally-in-control European temptress of the script without missing a beat. Her character—both in and out of the scenes from Thomas' play—undergoes many changes, and Arianda documents them all with a sharp eye and a committed technique. Bentley has the less showy role, yet he makes Thomas' transition from self-assured helmer to quivering lump of masochism believable.
Kudos also to costume designer Anita Yavich for wardrobe choices that bring the play's sexual fantasies to erotic life.
Presented by and at Classic Stage Company, 136 E. 13th St., NYC. Jan. 26–March 28. Tue.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat. and Sun., 2 p.m. (212) 351-3101, (866) 811-4111, www.theatermania.com, or www.classicstage.org. Casting by Calleri Casting.