WHAT “Venus in Fur”
WHEN | WHERE Through Jan. 28, Hampton Theatre Company, 125 Jessup Ave., Quogue
INFO $10-$30; 866-811-4111, hamptontheatre.org
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.