A bounteous butt triggers trouble in Venus.

Booty Call 

A bounteous butt triggers trouble in Venus.

We are all familiar with the history of Africans captured in their native land and taken in chains to distant shores as slaves and chattel. But it's less well known that there were a few who actually signed on for the trip. One of them was Saartjie Baartman, a young woman with humongous buttocks who was lured to appear in Europe as a sideshow freak dubbed the Venus Hottentot. Since she was complicit in that journey, with the promise of riches held out to her, her story becomes one that can resonate with almost anyone -- who among us hasn't pimped ourselves out in some way for a paycheck?

Of course, the import of Baartman's story goes deeper than that, touching on issues of racism, colonialism, misogyny, and the medical arts. Now being given its Ohio premiere at Cleveland Public Theatre, Venus, by Suzan-Lori Parks, is an immensely theatrical production with some telling performances. But Parks' script, offering a story line that doesn't arc so much as spiral back on itself, seems entirely too repetitious. Plus, the main character never develops beyond her simply stated desire to be loved. We get that, but we would love to know so much more.

The excellent actor Nina Domingue plays the lead role in a body suit equipped with a gravity-defying butt the size of a beach ball. Apparently, the attraction of a large heathen posterior was all the rage in Europe in 1810, when Venus was showcased among other assorted human oddities (daring patrons could actually poke her rear for an extra coin). Narrated by a Negro Resurrectionist (smooth Robert J. Williams) and punctuated with African rhythms, the play frequently employs modern slang in following Venus as she attempts to "make a mint" and become an independent woman. But that trail is littered with a heap of leering and gawking humiliations that would be difficult for anyone to withstand.

In the second act, Venus is taken to France by a wealthy doctor who keeps her sheltered from the world but uses her for a seemingly endless series of medical studies among his colleagues. While she is just looking for affection and a life of her own, Venus continues to be used by those who control her fate. Still, she is never a passive victim; she participates actively and at times eagerly in her own debasement. Frustratingly, that's as far as this script takes us, without delving more deeply into this woman's undoubtedly tormented psyche.

That's a shame, because the CPT company, under the direction of Jyana S. Gregory, mounts a thoroughly stimulating production, creating spellbinding tableaus with a dozen talented performers. Scenic designer Sergio Villegas has created a combination circus ring and surgical suite, with a towering gallery of catwalks looking down on a sawdust-filled circle, where Venus is displayed and dissected. By the end, the body of this Venus has been completely observed, measured, and documented, but her soul remains a mystery. In essence, she's been tricked out one more time.

Tags: , ,

More by Christine Howey

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Most Shared Stories

From the Archives

  • On Stage

    Capsule reviews of current area stage shows.
    • Dec 29, 2004
  • On Stage

    Capsule reviews of current area shows.
    • Feb 9, 2005
  • More »

Site Search

Facebook Activity

© 2014 Cleveland Scene: 1468 West Ninth Street, Suite 805, Cleveland, OH 44113, (216) 241-7550
Logos and trademarks on this site are property of their respective owners.


Website powered by Foundation