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Venus in Fur

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The tango is a dance which is at once elegant, playful, sensual and filled with power plays. It also has a  unique power to capture an audience. It's true that any two-character play can easily be described as some type of dance. But the tango is a particularly apt metaphor for David Ives' erotically charged Venus in Fur.

Thomas (Graham Hamilton) is a writer/director who has just finished a discouraging day of auditions. He has yet to find the right actress to play the role of Wanda in his adaptation of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's seminal 19th Century S & M novel, Venus in Furs. To the sound of a convenient clap of thunder, Vanda (Jaimi Paige) suddenly explodes into the room and proceeds to splash rainwater, loudly curse her luck, and make excuses for her tardiness.

Thomas is reluctant to audition her, but Vanda is already grabbing costume pieces from her seemingly bottomless bag. She insists, like so many before her, that she was born to play the role. Thomas sees only a strident, needy, and completely unsuitable actress who refers to the play's period as “Medieval Times.” That changes when he reads the first scene with her.

Before he knows what is happening, Thomas is under her spell. He still smarts when she casually calls his play “porn.” And, of course, there are the mysterious uncertainties which crop up. Questions of why her name was not on the appointment list, or how Vanda managed to get a copy of the full script when it had not been released to anyone. But Thomas is too excited by this perfect personification of his role to worry about such niggling details.

As they continue to read, Vanda makes suggestions. At one point she insists on improvising a prologue, which exists in the novel, but was left out of the play. The fact that she had earlier claimed ignorance of the source material is another tantalizing mystery.

To the accompaniment of the omnipresent storm, Thomas and Vanda continue their increasingly strange and dangerous tango. Though, who is the choreographing the dance becomes less and less clear. What is immediately apparent is why Venus in Fur has become the most frequently produced  play in regional theaters over the past year.

Casey Stangl has directed the production with an eye to enhancing the mystery and keeping the audience on the edge of its seats. She is greatly helped by protean atmosphere conjured by Keith Mitchell's sets, Elizabeth Harper's lighting, and Jeff Polunas' sound. David Kay Mickelsen's witty costumes provide all that is needed without tipping his hand.

Any two-hander rises or falls on the strengths of the actors, and both Hamilton and Paige have the skill and charisma to carry it off. Hamilton deftly delineates his journey from supercilious director to worshipful acolyte. Paige matches him step by step as she tempts, coerces, and bludgeons her way into the power position.

South Coast Repertory   October 11 – October 26, 2014



Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”


Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.