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Hamptons Life

Jan 13, 2018 11:44 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Review: 'Venus In Fur' Titillates in Quogue

Tina Jones and Tristan Vaughan in
Jan 16, 2018 3:17 PM

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. Even so, Mr. Vaughan is underwhelming. He played the title role in “Hamlet” at Guild Hall a few years ago, but here gives off a whiff of being embarrassed to be there as the script probes into S&M themes, rather than being the character.

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.”

“Venus in Fur” will continue at Quogue Community Hall through January 28 with performances on Thursdays and Fridays at 7 p.m., Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m., and a matinée on Saturday, January 27, at 2:30 p.m. To purchase tickets, visit hamptontheatre.org or call OvationTix at 1-866-811-4111.

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