Because we're keeping the Women's Voices initiative in mind even though Washington's groundbreaking fall festival is done (and we are, aren't we?), let's wrap our heads around this one more time: D.C.'s only steady resident women's theater company stakes its claim in Laurel, Maryland. Geographically and psychologically, that's a fringe, and you can rely on the tiny storefront Venus Theatre to deliver radical, shaggy plays.
Take "Fur," a romantic triangle with a considerable twist. Somewhere outside a sandy, post-apocalyptic L.A. a blonde named Nena has a crush on a pet shop owner named Michael. Michael is smitten with Citrona, a woman who's so feral and so totally covered with fur that he keeps her in a cage.
Who does Citrona love? That sexy blonde, Nena.
Migdalia Cruz's 90 minute play isn't new; the 1995 Latino Chicago production was showcased at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre two years later. The three-person drama fits the pocket-sized Venus neatly: the audience sits on two sides of the small playing area, which emphasizes the sense of characters penned in.
Only Citrona is literally caged, though, and from inside those bars Deborah Randall – costumed like a gorilla girl, to pun on the famed troupe of subversive feminist artists-activists – delivers a performance that's surprisingly understated. Cruz's script is full of pensive monologues that could easily grow pretentious or boring, but Randall shows a light touch with this language. A brain whirrs coolly under all that fur. Wit, too.
"I don't eat barbecue," Randall's Citrona says drily when Nena comes around to put food in the cage.
Karin Rosnizeck and Grant Cloyd are capable as the peculiarly obsessed Nena and Michael, but Cruz's driving interest is Citrona. Randall – who also directed this show, and is Venus's founder and artistic director – flows with the poetry as she creates an outsider who's intense (though not overwrought) and also wry.
The play is about banging against the limitations of desires that may be unconventional and/or unrequited. For a pop romantic effect, Cruz has Beatles tunes rippling through the script, and this production's understated jokes include the pleasure of recalling certain lyrics when all you hear is the tune. "Hair/down/to his knees" is particularly neat.
This "Fur" isn't dynamite, but it's the kind of thoughtful, scruffy, low-budget theater that's hard to create in button-down D.C. In terms of accessibility and the ability to casually push envelopes on this scale, Venus's true sister city is probably Baltimore. Washington shouldn't surrender its claim on any assets, though, especially when diversity and parity are the topics.
"Fur," by Migdalia Cruz. Directed by Deborah Randall. Lighting and scenic designer, Amy Belschner-Rhodes; sound design, Neil McFadden; costumes and props, Deborah Randall. Through April 10 at Venus Theatre, 21 C St., Laurel. Tickets $20. Call 202-236-4078 or visit www.venustheatre.org