Desperate to find an actress to play the female lead in his adaptation of the classic tale of sadomasochism, Venus in Fur, a beleaguered playwright/director auditions a vulgar and equally desperate actress. Though utterly wrong for the sophisticated part, Vanda piques the playwright’s interest with her seductive talents and secretive manner. As the two work through the script, they blur the line between play and reality, entering into an increasingly serious game of submission and domination that only one of them can win.
MORE ABOUT THE PLAY / THE PLAYWRIGHT
DAVID IVES (Playwright) is an American playwright, screenwriter, and novelist perhaps best known for his comic one-act plays; in 1997 a review in The New York Times referred to him as the “maestro of the short form.” He has also written dramatic plays, narrative stories and screenplays, adapted French 17th and 18th-century classical comedies and adapted 33 musicals for New York City’s “Encores!” series.
The playwright’s All in the Timing, an evening of six one-act plays, earned rave reviews when it opened in 1993, won the Outer Critics Circle John Gassner Award for Playwriting and was included in Best Plays of 1993 – 1994. In 1995 and 1996, All in the Timing was the most performed play in the U.S. after those of Shakespeare. Venus in Fur opened Off-Broadway at the Classic Stage Company in January 2010; it premiered on Broadway in October 2011 at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, produced by the Manhattan Theatre Club. The play transferred to the Lyceum Theatre in February 2012 for an extended run.
TINA JONES (Vanda) is happy to be making her Hampton Theatre Company debut. She has also performed on the East End at Guild Hall (Tonight at 8:30) and Bay Street Theater (Death of a Salesman). Ms. Jones has worked across the country. Regional theater: Berkeley Repertory Theatre (How I Learned to Drive), Baltimore Center Stage (A Winter’s Tale), Cleveland Playhouse (The Invisible Man), American Conservatory Theater (Arcadia, The Cherry Orchard, The Rose Tattoo, The Matchmaker), San Jose Repertory Theatre, Idaho Shakespeare Festival (Two Gentlemen of Verona, Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2), Arizona Theatre Company (The Last Night of Ballyhoo); as well as Broadway (The Real Thing), Off-Off Broadway, film and television. She holds a Master’s Degree from the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco and studies with the Barrow Group in New York City.
TRISTAN VAUGHAN (Thomas) is thrilled to return to the Hampton Theatre Company where he played Mr. Briggs in The Enchanted April and Clifford in Deathtrap. Additionally, on the East End, he played the title role in Hamlet at Guild Hall and Malcolm in Macbeth with Round Table Theatre Company. Directing credits include Macbeth and Extremities. He has appeared at the Ensemble Studio Theatre Los Angeles, classical acting company, in films and on television. He and his wife Morgan teach Shakespeare and classical acting privately and at various venues in the Hamptons. He holds an MFA in acting from the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Academy for Classical Acting at George Washington University. He also holds a certificate of graduate studies from the Circle in the Square Theatre School in NYC and a certificate in Shakespearean acting from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) in London. Union affiliations: AEA and SAG-AFTRA.
DIANA MARBURY (Director, Set Decor) is excited to be bringing this intriguing play to our audience. It is particularly relevant in these days with headlines focused on so much sexual misbehavior. Diana was recently seen as Alice in the opening show of the HTC’s 33rd season, Clever Little Lies. She has acted in over 50 shows with the company and throws on the director’s hat whenever given the chance. She directed last season’s madcap comedy, Alarms and Excursions and the timely presidential play November. She has dressed sets for 30 years and thanks all those people and businesses who have generously lent props and furniture, making her job a pleasure. Last but not least, she thanks our audience for their avid support and encouragement.
SEAN MARBURY (Set Designer) has worked in textile design, built sets for TV series, commercials, and films and worked with the design, engineering and fabrication of race car components. He currently works on high end residential construction. His set designs for HTC include Deathtrap, Other People’s Money, Other Desert Cities, The Foreigner, Harvey, Time Stands Still, November, An Act of the Imagination, Alarms and Excursions, and Clever Little Lies.
SEBASTIAN PACZYNSKI (Lighting Designer) has designed all the company’s productions since 2004 as well as the theater’s lighting system. He has designed lighting for theater, dance and special events in a number of Broadway, Off Broadway, Off Off Broadway and regional venues. He has also worked in film and television as the director of photography. He has designed numerous productions for Guild Hall and for the Hamptons Shakespeare Festival.
TERESA LEBRUN (Costume Designer) is the resident costumer for HTC. She started helping with costumes in 1986 and has designed the costumes for all the company’s productions since 2005. Teresa also costumes for Center Moriches and Westhampton Beach High Schools. She is happy to be working with Diana again and this amazing cast. Much love to her boys, Josh and Noah, family and great friends.
AMANDA GRIEMSMANN (Production Stage Manger) is thrilled to be stage managing Venus in Fur! She appeared on stage most recently with the HTC last season as Holly Adams in An Act of the Imagination and Bec in 4000 Miles. She recently finished shooting a short film in Manhattan called The Journey in which she plays the leading role. Last summer she assistant directed Legally Blonde the Musical with the Quogue Junior Theater Troupe. Lots of love to friends and family! Very special thanks to Diana for this opportunity. Always “Give ’em hell!”
PATRIC MCGLONE/JOSIAH ANDERSON (Technical Support) Patrick and Josiah have worked backstage for the Hampton Theatre Company on two productions, Alarms and Excursions and Clever Little Lies. They are happy to have the opportunity to work once again with Diana, Amanda, Sebastian and Seamus to master more technical skills in support of Hampton Theatre Company productions.
Rehearsal Stage Manager
Production Stage Manager
SEAN MARBURY, CARLOS BUENO, WILLY GARCIA,PATRICK McGLONE, SEAMUS NAUGHTON
DIANA MARBURY,SEAMUS NAUGHTON
SEAMUS NAUGHTON, PATRICK McGLONE, JOSIAH ANDERSON
JOE PALLISTER – DESIGNINGJOE
JULIA MORGAN ABRAMS
“Venus In Fur’ Titillates in Quogue
By Lorraine Dusky
The East Hampton Press and The Southampton Press
Quogue is the epicenter of WASPdom on the East End. It is where all the people who should live in Connecticut—but find themselves with a house in the Hamptons instead—are making do, thank you very much.
Thus Quogue is not where you expect to see a sexy, comic, spikey, possibly pornish play that puts sadomasochism at the heart of it. But “Venus in Fur” is what director Diana Marbury is dishing out to her genteel audience for the next few weeks, presented by the Hampton Theatre Company. In Quogue. To judge by the opening night reception, they loved it. Me too.
“Venus in Fur” is a delicious morsel of a comedy/drama that is likely to leave you pleasantly titillated as you consider just what happened up on the stage at the end of 90 minutes-plus. If turnabout is fair play, equity certainly won the day.
The story begins at the end of a long day of auditions for Thomas, the writer/director of an adaptation of “Venus in Furs,” an 1870 century novel by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch—the man whose name inspired the word masochism.
The audition space is a gloomy cement-block basement somewhere in New York City (fabulous, as usual by Hampton Theatre Company’s Sean Marbury) when lightning strikes and in swoops a rain-soaked but indefatigable woman whose name—Vanda Jordan—wasn’t even on the audition sheet. But isn’t it a coincidence, she deftly points out, that she shares a name with the part she is auditioning for, Wanda.
Writer/director Thomas objects that they are looking for someone a little different. “Somebody who’s not me,” she interjects. Ouch, haven’t we all felt like that at one time in our lives? She continues: “I’m too young. I’m too old. I’m too big, I’m too small. My resume’s not long enough, OK … Anyway, how do you know who I am or what I can do?”
In no time at all, Vanda convinces the perplexed director Thomas (Tristan Vaughan) to read a few pages with her as she pulls out the entire script—soggy from the rain, speckled with her notes—from her commodious red bag. Where could she have gotten that? Copies aren’t floating around anywhere. This is the first clue that maybe we’re delving into the fantastical.
Then it’s off to the races as these two read further into the script, alternating between current time (the audition) and the play Thomas has written. The balance of power subtly but distinctly shifts between the two of them, and what is real and what is not is left up to the audience to decide, laughing all the way. Yet it is much too complicated, and the teeter-tottering scales too intriguing to observe, to simply be a lighthearted sex comedy.
No actual whips and chains are on stage—fishnet stockings and thigh-high patent leather boots suffice, as well as a few other surprises that emerge from Vanda’s bag. Teresa LeBrun’s costumes transform Vanda from S&M hooker into a proper 19th century lady as she wiggles into a long, white dress.
The question is, are they play acting or are they for real? Is Vanda real? Who is this sprite and where did she come from? This study of erotica does get dicey by the end because, well, to tell you would be unkind and spoil your fun.
The fun revolves not only around playwright David Ives’s smart, whip-cracking dialog loaded with comic lines, but also the spectacular Tina Jones as the irrepressible, dynamic Wanda/Vanda who ignites this staging and never turns down the heat. Ms. Jones gushes, cavorts and commands as Vanda. She is the daffy chatty Cathy who turns shrewd and domineering as slowly as a cat stalking prey, and she is an absolute stunner to watch.
Ms. Jones has Broadway and off-Broadway credits; and we saw her recently in minor roles in “Death of a Salesman” at Bay Street Theater. If Ms. Jones is going to hang out on the East End, mark your calendar whenever you see her name in the cast.
The part of the writer/director Thomas is lesser than Vanda’s even if they share the stage the whole time. He played the title role in “Hamlet” at Guild Hall a few years ago.
Playwright David Ives is no newcomer to updating ancient works and has adapted 17th and 18th century French classical comedies. On Broadway in 2012, “Venus in Fur” was nominated for a Tony as Best Play; the woman who starred as Vanda (Nina Arianda) won as Best Actress that year. Similar kudos have gone to the women in the role in Canada and Australia.
As the Golden Globes awards night showed us—with only men nominated for Best Director—Ms. Marbury, beloved in Quogue for both her directing and acting with Hampton Theatre Company, was ahead of the curve when she chose this play. That had to be well before the recent Times Up movement to give bigger and better parts to women in the performing arts got under way.
As a 2-year-old once said about my Thanksgiving custard pumpkin pie, “More, please.” My plus-one was ill the night I saw “Venus in Fur.” I hope to take him this coming weekend for my own second helping of “More, please.”
The Ties That Bind … and Those Who Love Them
By Annette Hinkle
Sag Harbor Express
When it comes to love, who knows what truly lurks in the hearts of men … or women for that matter?
The dark inner workings of human nature can lie in stark contrast to the outer protective shell which is filled by lines people dare not cross in the light of day. But as the light fades, the tables — and the desires — can turn, especially when no one is looking.
The Hampton Theatre Company is currently offering a production of “Venus in Fur,” a saucy little two-hander by David Ives which explores the seamier side of human sexuality. While the playwright seems to relish the notion of taking his audiences for a quick dip into the deep end of the dominance pool, the larger social issues the play touches on end up being of far greater interest and import.
“Venus in Fur” is actually a play-within-a-play, and the title references an 1870 book of the same name by Austrian author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. In case you’re curious about the territory into which this play delves, keep in mind that it is from Masoch’s name that we derive the word “masochist” — consider him the kinky cousin of the Marquis de Sade, that 18th century French nobleman with a pension for pain who we have to thank for the concept of sadism.
Though shades of both end up making an appearance in this concise one-act play, which is directed capably by Diana Marbury, the whole exercise begins on a much more legitimate plane.
Set in a seedy downtown loft/office space in present day Manhattan, “Venus in Fur” opens with frustrated playwright and director Thomas Novachek (Tristan Vaughan) struggling to find the right actress to star in his new play, which is an adaptation of Sacher-Masoch’s book “Venus in Fur.” As the lights go up, he’s on the phone with his fiancé complaining that none of the would-be starlets who have shown up to audition so far possess the maturity, depth, intelligence or sheer sex appeal required for the lead character in his play, dominatrix Wanda von Dunayev.
So with the day’s light fading and a thunderstorm setting in, Thomas decides to close up shop for the day and join his fiancé for dinner.
Suddenly, a curiously named actress Vanda Jordan (Tina Jones) bursts in. She apologizes for being so late for her audition, despite the fact she seems to have not made an appointment.
Though Thomas tries to put her off — he may have written the play, but he’s no actor and his reader has gone home for the day — Vanda convinces him to read the script with her. So the playwright reluctantly takes on the role of Severin von Kushemski, the man so in love with Wanda von Dunayev that he willingly agrees to be her sex slave.
It turns out that Vanda Jordan is a method actor extraordinaire. She has brought along a whole bag of period costumes and props for the audition, and she has a frighteningly thorough and accurate knowledge of Thomas’ script, as well as the source material upon which it is based. Unlike the others who have shown up to audition, Vanda is a confident and skilled actress, and though this is supposed to be Thomas’ production, it doesn’t take long for her to turn the tables and make him a true captive who succumbs to her power.
Marbury’s excellent direction is evident throughout the production and she’s fortunate to be working with two real pros on stage. The acting in “Venus in Fur” is top notch. As Thomas, Vaughan does a brilliant job of attempting to maintain the upper hand of professionalism in the face of Vanda’s prowess. As the night, and the complications, progress, the anxiety in his voice during successive calls to his waiting fiancé heighten the tension. We clearly see that he is being drawn into a world that he has obviously thought a great deal about, but has never before ventured.
Meanwhile, Tina Jones is a true tour-de-force as Vanda. This is not a simplistic role, yet her ability to step in and out of the character of Wanda von Dunayev while pressing Thomas on the deeper, intellectual motives behind his own play is mesmerizing. Tough talking, self-assured and highly aware of the mores that lead to a dual existence of societal expectations vs. secret dark desires, it soon becomes apparent that Vanda’s appearance at Thomas’ office after everyone has gone home for the evening is far more than a case of accidental tardiness.
As the ferocity of the lightening and thunder pick up outside, we can only imagine what a dark and stormy night it will turn out to be.
If this play was only about the physical desire to dominate or be dominated, it would remain a superficial exercise in alternative tastes. But themes of equality, feminine empowerment and assumed gender roles are well represented here. While not everyone will relate to the joys of being restrained for the want of love, the notion that we may feel something is missing from our lives once we’ve settled for what we think we want is a far more universal theme. Convention, acceptability and relationships driven by outward expectations may serve society, but they do little to quell the secret passions that live on in the private mind.
As we are constantly bombarded by revelations of tawdry extra-marital activities by individuals in positions of power, it may be convenient for those in charge to claim innocence and outwardly profess a distain for the profane and the subversive … but as “Venus in Fur” reminds us, the heart always knows where the true loyalties lie.
The Hampton Theatre Company’s production of David Ives “Venus In Fur” runs through January 28 at the Quogue Community Hall, 125 Jessup Avenue, Quogue. Set design is by Sean Marbury; lighting design by Sebastian Paczynski; and costumes by Teresa Lebrun. Performances are Thursdays and Fridays at 7 p.m., Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m., and a matinee on Saturday, January 27 at 2:30 p.m. with a lunch and theater package available with the Quogue Club at the Hallock House. Special dinner and theater packages in collaboration with the Westhampton, Southampton, Hampton Bays and Quogue libraries are also available.
‘Venus in Fur’ review: Timely comedy at Hampton Theatre Company
By Barbara Schuler
BOTTOM LINE Mystical meets erotic in David Ives’ dark comedy.
David Ives is probably best known for his frequently produced play “All in the Timing.” But talk about timing, let’s consider another of his works, “Venus in Fur,” which opened last week at the Hampton Theatre Company.
Ives puts the balance of power between men and women under a microscope in the dark comedy, performed on and Off-Broadway in 2010-11 but so of the moment right now in the era of #MeToo and the Time’s Up movement.
A violent storm is underway as the lights come up on Thomas, a playwright-director who’s on his cellphone, going ballistic over the string of “incompetent actresses” he’s seen in a fruitless, daylong audition. He’s packing up to leave when in blows Vanda, struggling with a battered umbrella and an armful of overloaded bags.
Using every woe-is-me trick in the book, the tardy actress not only cajoles him into staying but convinces him to read with her, doing the male role in the play, an adaptation of the 1870 novel “Venus in Furs” by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, whence the term masochism is derived. You see where this is going?
Staged and designed with fine attention to detail by the company’s artistic director, Diana Marbury, the play presents a fascinating mix of the mystical and the erotic.
Tina Jones gives an electric performance as Vanda, in the role that won the 2012 best actress Tony for Nina Arianda. Jones is bordering on combustible from the beginning, as she sheds her dripping trenchcoat to reveal a dominatrix-inspired black leather get-up. That doesn’t work for the director, so she digs into one of those bags for a more period-appropriate white dress (costumes by Teresa LeBrun) before launching into the script that, oddly, she knows surprisingly well for someone who says she just glanced at it on the train.
As Thomas, Tristan Vaughan does a fine job standing up to the onslaught that is Vanda, portraying the necessary confusion as the audition progresses and Vanda subtly — and then not so subtly — takes control. Eventually the play and the audition become one, with Thomas increasingly perplexed about how much Vanda knows about the original novel and, more frighteningly, his personal life.
When Vanda completely takes charge and presides over a cunning improvisation, it becomes clear that she is not entirely who she seems. “Who are you?” Thomas asks of her, more than once. That, of course, is the question Ives clearly intends to leave audiences pondering.
Winter Theater Review: Tina Jones Is Brilliant In “Venus In Fur” At Quogue Community Center
by T.J. Clemente
Go see Venus in Fur, a modern play by David Ives that is being presented by the Hamptons Theatre Company at the Quogue Community Center until Sunday, January 28th. Tina Jones will amaze you with the way she lights up the stage with her talents, raw energy, and portrayal as Vanda. Her performance alone is worth the price of the ticket.
The plot revolves around Thomas, a playwright and director that is desperately struggling to cast the female lead in his adaptation of Venus in Fur. Thomas auditions Vanda, who is completely mismatched for the sophisticated part, leading to “the lines between reality and the story blurring as they play a game of submission and domination.”
I must honestly say Jones’ first 15 minutes on stage in this play is the best show stealing acting I have ever seen in a live show in my life. That is taking away nothing from Tristan Vaughan who plays Thomas and whose great chemistry with Jones is so obvious. I do many reviews and most of the time I try to find the best of the show and put a bright light on it. For this show, just watching Jones makes writing this review a pleasure.
That being said, Vaughn also brings much to the show. He is understandable in his dialogue and has some high grade comedic qualities to his acting skills. He is the perfect straight man for Ms. Jones.
While discussing the writing of Venus in Fur, one could talk about the various elements of power in relationships and the perverse way personal needs sways behavior based on earlier life experiences. But, since I did not get my college degrees in psychology, I won’t dwell on this point. However, the writing of Mr. Ives will rock your comfort zone on matters of the power dynamic in relationships. In the end I believe it is the talent of Ms. Jones that will have you smiling on your drive or walk home after the show.
The coziness and comfort of the Quogue Community Center venue itself really adds to this show. The lightning with its sound effects is stunning and realistic, so much so that I had to blink to realize it was theatrics. As usual, the talents of Diana Marbury as Director and Sean Marbury – set design along with Sebastian Paczynski’s lighting design adds to what I promise will be a night of laughs, smiles with giggles with a touch of wonderment.
Feminism in Disguise at Hampton Theatre
By Kurt Wenzel
East Hampton Star
The Hampton Theatre Company, coming off one of its greatest successes with this fall’s production of “Clever Little Lies,” now takes on edgier and
more challenging material with “Venus in Fur,” which opened last Thursday in Quogue. At first glance, this David Ives play seems to be a sadomasochistic sex comedy, but it is actually a work of feminism in disguise. The setting of this two-character drama is an industrial rehearsal space where a
playwright turned first-time director has been auditioning actresses for his new work, “Venus in Fur” (yes, this is another “play within a play”). The director/writer, Thomas, as acted by Tristan Vaughan, is pedantic and condescending, coming off like a callow, if slightly kinky, graduate student. As the play opens he is onstage alone complaining to his fiancée how the women he has been auditioning are all shallow and superficial (though the same could be said for Thomas, despite his literary pretensions). He is about to pack it in for the day, when there is a knock at the door. Enter Vanda, a struggling actress spewing vulgarities and dressed like a prostitute in leather boots and black nylons. Thomas judges her immediately as wrong for the
part — just another in a line of floozy actresses. Vanda, however, though repeatedly denied by Thomas, is determined to audition. This sets off a monologue of selflaceration that proves significant later in the play: “I’m too young, I’m too old. I’m too big, I’m too small. My résumé’s not long enough.” She then unfurls a copy of the script, based on a 19th-century novel by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch — from which the word masochism is derived. Where did she get this copy of the script, asks Thomas? Skirting a reply, Vanda suddenly leaps into character (also named Vanda, not so coincidentally) and nails it in an instant. She is so convincing, in fact, that Thomas decides to let her rehearse the entire play with him, which turns out to be a kind of pretentious soft-core variation of the works of the Marquis de Sade. Still, it is twisty and kinky enough to allow Vanda and Thomas to play out their game of dominance and submission to its conclusion. Much of the humor comes from watching Vanda, superlatively played by Tina Jones, flit from vulgar-New-York-actress-Vanda into vampy-Austro-Hungarian-
Empire-Vanda. Ms. Jones accomplishes this seamlessly, changing character
sometimes within the same line of dialogue and keeping the audience completely off balance. As directed by Diana Marbury (herself excellent in “Clever Little Lies”), Ms. Jones gives a dynamic performance, which by the play’s conclusion has her convincingly inhabiting four or five different characters.
Sean Marbury’s set is also notable. Initially, the loft-like rehearsal space looks innocent enough, with its cushy divan and inviting coffee station. But as the lighting changes and the drama begins to darken, the space begins to look more and more like a sadomasochistic dungeon, helping to bring to life the interplay of dominance and submission.
Mr. Vaughan, too, in his portrayal of Thomas, is asked to inhabit a number of
characters and sexual posturings. Mostly he succeeds, though without the dynamic breadth of Ms. Jones. This may be by design, as the play is all about the championing of Vanda and, finally (without giving too much away), the power of women.
By drama’s end, it’s not clear if the playwright is in complete thematic control of his material, as the play becomes a hall of mirrors where all human interaction is boiled down to sadomasochistic impulses. It shoots off so many ideas at once you don’t have time to notice which ones land and which don’t. One thing for sure, however, is that Mr. Ives’s work is partly a criticism of the theater world and its power dynamics, where struggling actresses (and, presumably, actors) supplicate at the feet of pompous directors who hold all the cards. This gives this new production of “Venus in Fur” a distinct timeliness. With our culture and politics awash in sexual scandal, it’s hard to think of a more current subject matter. First staged in 2010, “Venus in Fur” was prescient in its diagnosis of a corrosive theater culture. With its many electrifying moments, this Hampton Theatre Company revival brings back the hurt at just the right moment.
Venus In Fur: Sex, Lies, & The Theatre
By Bridget LeRoy
Hampton Theatre Company in Quogue continues its season with another winner on many levels – David Ives’s recent Broadway success Venus in Fur.
The two-person, play-within-a play dramedy continually oscillates between reality and fiction as an actress auditions for a part in front of the director-playwright – sorry, “adapter” – of a play based on the works of Leopold von
Sacher-Masoch, where the word “masochism” comes from. “We had no idea when we chose it last year,” said director Diana Marbury at the show’s end, about how incredibly au courant the work is today, in light of Harvey Weinstein, Louis CK, and the MeToo movement. “But now, it’s even more relevant.” The objectification of women, and the anger it invokes, is a theme that runs through the evening.
Marbury’s direction is deft and swift – the action never stops in the 90 minutes the audience is riveted to matters on stage. Sean Marbury’s
set is perfect – is it a loft space in Manhattan, the interior of a 19thcentury
chateau, or a dungeon where fur and whips lie in wait? Like the play itself, it is all three.
The action opens with Thomas (Tristan Vaughan) complaining on his cell phone about his day, auditioning dozens of women who are wrong for the part of Vanda, a cruel and dominating woman pulled from the pages of
von Sacher-Masoch’s most famous work, Venus in Furs. With a crash of lighting and thunder, in comes another inappropriate actress, Vanda (Tina Jones), whom Thomas tries to get to leave. (And Sebastian Paczynski’s lighting is a subtle but necessary player as well.) But Vanda won’t go until she has a chance to audition, and convinces Thomas to read the part of Severin von Kushemski and once she becomes the character, Thomas is
under her spell, as is the audience. Jones – who vacillates between
the aristocratic coolness of the character Vanda and the coarse vulgarity of a desperate New York actress – absolutely transfixes with her dazzling performance. Vaughan is perfect as the intellectual yet naive Thomas, who gets drawn down into the depths of a clever game of cat and mouse.
Physically even, the actors are opposites. Jones is angular, all cheekbones and tight ponytail, Vaughan – and this is meant in the nicest of ways—is soft and pliable. Director-playwright? Can you say control freak? Not once Vanda becomes his high-heeled Venus. Teresa Lebrun’s costumed bits and bobs of velvet, lace, patent leather, and dog collars assist the transformation as the duo run lines and blur lines between who they are playing, who they are, and who they surreptitiously wish to become.
The play within a play smacks of another European work, written 100 years earlier in the late 1700s – Les Liaisons Dangereuses – where wealthy nobles play with each other’s affections to gain dominance, and which also enjoyed a long run on Broadway and is still performed today. Ives’s work seems to borrow from that successful playbook.
Of course, there are plenty of sexual dynamics to steam up the stage. But who is the slave, and who is the master? As the play progresses, the meek actress begins to give directions to the director, the roleplaying switched several times.
Is Thomas’s play an homage to an admired writer, or his deepest, darkest wish? And is Vanda, whose name is the same as the part she is playing, a goddess in disguise, come down to rain fire on a play that ultimately debases women? Is Venus in Fur inferring Venus has arrived in the form of this squeaky, hysterical actress to teach Thomas a lesson?