Venus NYC Reviews and Tickets

77%
(101 Reviews)
Positive
78%
Mixed
20%
Negative
2%
Members say
Great acting, Thought-provoking, Ambitious, Relevant, Intelligent

About the Show

Signature Theatre revives Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks' exploration of the life of Saartjie Baartman, aka the "Hottentot Venus."

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Member Reviews (101)

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90
Edgy, Intense, Profound, Dizzying, Disturbing

See it if Shocking racism and misogyny in 1810. Tragic love affair. Audience put into awkward roles. Stunning imagery. Immersive and challenging.

Don't see it if You are not prepared for heavy, confrontational, uncomfortable material. You don't like a complex script with shifting tones and layers.

79
Ambitious, Edgy, Thought-provoking, Relevant, Intense

See it if Parks' drama perhaps more timely today then when written. deBessonet's stylized production both frightens & alienates Jab's Venus poignant

Don't see it if Brechtian production disallows much sympathy & Parks' narrative structure confusing at times but Jab's complex performance pulls us along

Critic Reviews (29)

The New York Times
May 15th, 2017

"A patchy revival...This latest reincarnation has a new clarity that illuminates both the script’s prescience and its flaws. Directed by Lear deBessonet, the play reveals itself to be an unexpectedly traditional piece by the standards of Ms. Parks...Yet Ms. deBessonet’s production as a whole never achieves a compelling unity of vision...That’s partly to do with the script...And for the most part, the talented cast doesn’t yet match the stylish precision of its surroundings."
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Time Out New York
May 15th, 2017

"In the two decades since its Public Theater debut, Suzan-Lori Parks’s 'Venus' has lost none of its power to unsettle and appall. If anything, the story of Saartjie Baartman’s exploitation at the hands of early-19th-century human traffickers—some venal, some high-minded—has gained in shock value. Its current revival, directed by Lear deBessonet, is devastating...Jah brings an unaffected dignity to Baartman’s quest, even as she begs for validation."
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Deadline
May 16th, 2017

“By turns moving and didactic…Parks’s Brechtian flourishes work effortfully to distance us from the tale. But Jah and deBessonet play against such archness, determined to bring us into Saartjie’s emotional world, which is one of naivete, enchantment and disillusion…deBessonet delivers some magic here, with a carnival-like production given visual resonance in Matt Saunders’ striking scene design…If this works to make Saartjie Baartman more than a symbol, well, all the better.”
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New York Daily News
May 15th, 2017

"An absorbing revival...The story is quite straightforward. The storytelling is highly theatrical. The script flows with poetry, music and moments that pop, like when the dexterous Zainab Jah slips into character as Venus. Director Lear deBessonet guides a fine ensemble and evocative staging. As 'Venus' goes from gritty carnival sideshow to fancy French domestic setting, it reminds that cruelty and objectification are at home in both places."
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AM New York
May 18th, 2017

"'Venus' is pageant-like, intellectual and reminiscent of 'The Elephant Man.' And now Lear deBessonet has staged an excellent revival of the play...Whether the play’s bold and self-aware theatricality adds to or detracts from the impact of the storytelling is up for debate. But thanks to superb production values and an absorbing and ambiguous performance from Jah, 'Venus' works over the audience like an intoxicating spell."
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Theatermania
May 15th, 2017

"Emotional and intellectual ambiguities make 'Venus' incredibly difficult to sit through, and yet, they are also what make it such an intriguing work...Baartman could easily be portrayed as a helpless victim, but Parks' imagined narrative—as well as Jah's complex performance—obscure anything cut-and-dried about the mythology that has come to surround her...Jah is superb at maneuvering the intricacies of such a complicated character."
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BroadwayWorld
May 24th, 2017

"Balancing pathos, power, and sensuality, Zainab Jah shows us the complex woman behind the stage figure...deBessonet's perfectly cold and tense production begins with Jah making a quiet, unemotional ritual out of putting on a padded flesh-toned suit replicating Baartman's figure...‘Venus’ is aggressively unsentimental, so when Baartman continually prompts her lover to demonstrate his affection with her naïve inquiry, ‘Love me?,’ the tragedy is heartbreaking.”
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Lighting & Sound America
May 30th, 2017

"Both overelaborate and undercooked, a series of mirthless cartoons that state and restate its theme to diminishing effect…Despite some very fine work in the title role by the sly, smoky-voiced Zainab Jah -- it never becomes the gripping, revelatory indictment it means to be…None of these moments come together to create a coherent portrait,,,deBessonet's production often feels lacking in energy, despite its highly qualified cast.”
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Talkin' Broadway
May 15th, 2017

"The play does a good job of bringing Saartjie's story to the fore. But over the course of the evening, things become less coherent...'Venus' has much of significance to say about the treatment of women and blacks. But it is a challenging play to pull off without losing its focus, and director deBessonet has not been entirely successful...There is an ironic tone to much of the proceedings, but the clashing styles challenge our ability to immerse ourselves in Saartjie's all-too-human story."
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TheaterScene.net
May 26th, 2017

“The problem at the heart of ‘Venus’ is that its author Suzan-Lori Parks does not, fundamentally, trust the strength of her central figure, Miss Saartje Baartman (aka the Venus Hottentot). In her bizarrely overwritten play, the inherent emotional power of this figure goes missing, as if Parks is purposely avoiding an ‘Elephant Man’ redux by showing off every theatrical gimmick in her playwriting arsenal.”
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Theatre is Easy
May 18th, 2017

"Jah's portrayal of Baartman is luminous. Jah has delicately crafted a sympathetic character, making it very painful to watch her fragile innocence shattered again and again...Parks has a deft touch for writing prose which flows with lyrical wit...In this dazzling production, Parks and deBessonet transform the stage into the Georgian era, boldly taking hold of the historical narrative and refusing to cede it back, giving Baartman’s life the perspective she richly deserves."
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Theater Pizzazz
June 1st, 2017

"Lear deBessonet directs this revival of Parks’s 1996 play with flair and confidence, capitalizing on its numerous styles including Brechtian storytelling, vaudeville, and surreal absurdism...'Venus' is a unique creation by a unique playwright with an urgent voice...In 'Venus,' standards of beauty, the dignity of the female form, and a woman’s control over her body are additional themes that Parks explores with fearlessness and determination."
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CurtainUp
May 15th, 2017

"A visually stunning and finely cast new production...'Venus,' despite the detours from straightforward storytelling and its grotesque chorus, is not all that hard to follow. However, it's painfully hard to watch...This is a study of horrendous exploitation...Jah is magnificently heartbreaking...For all its colorful staging and fine acting, 'Venus' can't quite escape coming off as a rather obvious history lesson, but one, especially Parks' many fans, won't want to miss."
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Front Row Center
May 18th, 2017

"Makes you sit up and pay attention–even if you don’t want to. Now, the only reason you would not want to pay attention is that this is a sad, even horrific, story of how far a civilized society can go to disrupt what they do not understand...This is a mighty cast who play so many characters it makes your head spin. Each performance is finely tuned, and the direction of Lear DeBessonet brings the entire production to full-throttled life."
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Stage Buddy
May 22nd, 2017

"Jah gives a spectacularly humanistic portrayal of a woman who is passed from man to woman to man as an object of spectacle, desire, and, ultimately, science...Parks has a mastery of language, her lines bursting with poetry. 'Venus' has dark and difficult subject matter that Parks treats with utmost humanity, and the beauty of the language does much to counterbalance the brutality of The Venus’ life."
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C
May 15th, 2017

"Director deBessonet's striking revival of 'Venus,' which is dominated by a brilliant performance by Jah...It makes us look with fresh eyes and a clear mind at such contemporary issues as racism and gender objectification...Among the supporting cast, only the veteran actress Danson makes any real impact....One can leave the theater arguing just how much Baartman is truly a victim or a semi-willing party to her own demise. It’s a question without easy answers, but one worth asking."
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Theatre's Leiter Side
May 15th, 2017

“'Venus'…is overlong…and frequently lifeless. Much of it is juvenile and lacking in wit, its structure as misshapen as the woman whose story it dramatizes…Fortunately, it gets a finely nuanced performance from Jah, who brings charm and intelligence to playing this unusual, abused, enslaved, yet determined woman…The talented DeBessonet's effortful production can do little to blanket the play's weaknesses…At times it feels that someone's sucked the music out of what should have been a musical.”
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DC Theatre Scene
May 20th, 2017

“Jah’s performance is the best thing about deBessonet’s highly stylized, colorfully designed revival…If it’s a circus that’s their model, it’s one with many sideshows. Parks does not wish to be restricted to any one style or focus…While the principal cast and the ensemble all do fine work, it is Jah’s performance that carries the show. She provides a focus otherwise lacking. She embodies a character whose complexity makes her more interesting than just a victim or a symbol of oppression.”
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Newsday
May 15th, 2017

"A vivid, visually striking revival by the young director Lear deBessonet. As tragic as the tale is, resilience, humor and love run through the show...Using extreme stylization, Parks creates a distance from the story’s fundamental sadness, and the show never devolves into a treaty on racism and colonialism...Besides Jah, who imbues her character with a sensitive balance of pathos and dignity, the production benefits from an excellent ensemble."
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Times Square Chronicles
May 19th, 2017

"Like most racially charged plays, a major fact has been bastardized...The play is highly poetic, theatrical with a bleeding of song. The script skips around in time so, in a way, things are never fully coherent and seem dreamlike, well, more of a nightmare. Zainab Jah is prolific as Venus. She shows us her Venus layer by layer, as she is stripped and pawed...Lear deBessonet's staging is interesting as she adds a macabre circus-like staging to jar us out of complacency."
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Times Square Chronicles
August 17th, 2017

"A visually beautiful and etherial production...You see van Gogh’s work in a way you have never seen it before...Hudson plays van Gogh and though he has terrific facial expressions and looks like van Gogh, his vocals are off-putting...Wolf’s script becomes monotonous if not given a certain resonance...Makes you appreciate art not being recognized despite being a genius and the pain of mental illness. I left the theatre wanting to know more and feeling life is but a starry night."
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The Huffington Post
May 15th, 2017

"Viewed today, with the author’s intentions presumably more intact than they were 20 years ago, 'Venus' is revealed as an intriguing and arresting work...The playwright’s incisive, probing imagination matched with clearly inborn theatricality is very much in evidence...Parks tells her story in grand style, with four principals plus a very busy ensemble...Jah is altogether wonderful as Venus...DeBessonet does a masterful job, building a colorful and wild sideshow around the star attraction."
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Wolf Entertainment Guide
May 26th, 2017

“At the core is Zainab Jah in the title role, giving a superb, ultimately affecting performance…The more intimate portion of the play provides the strongest emotional connection for an audience, as opposed to the spectacle and overview that captures attention but detracts from the real drama involving a life at stake…All of the cast members are good, but Jah is very special…Ultimately we do feel for this victim of exploitation, and that is the major accomplishment of the play.”
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Financial Times (UK)
May 19th, 2017

"As cultural and psychological analysis, 'Venus' has a keen provocative edge...As drama, 'Venus' is less successful — because its steady fixation on Baartman’s sexual objectification becomes repetitive over the course of two hours...Under Lear deBessonet’s direction, the pacing also seems too uniformly ponderous while the ensemble’s delivery can sound hectoring...In keeping with her character, Jah is more subdued."
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WNBC
May 16th, 2017

"An adventurous revival...Jah is marvelous here as a woman imprisoned, yet not wholly a victim...Most of the actors in Signature’s production, which features carnival-like and sometimes too-cluttered direction by Lear deBessonet, play multiple roles...Empowered? Feminist? Pragmatic? In control? Jah’s Venus is all those things in degrees, in spite of the choices she makes, and the choices that are cruelly made for her."
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T
May 16th, 2017

"A disappointing, heavily overstylized production...Jah is superb as the Venus...Mambo and Conlee, are fine as well, but the rest of the cast are like amateurish caricatures, which might be the point but it detracts from the narrative nonetheless...Parks and deBessonet get to the heart of the matter early on; the bulk of the two-hour and fifteen-minute protest play merely hammers home the same ideas about gender, race, and cruelty, aspects of humanity still prevalent today."
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scribicide
May 15th, 2017

"Admittedly, I can at times find Ms. Parks' elliptical, musical style frustrating, untethered as it is from any narrative center. But with 'Venus,' she places this within a more conventional frame, allowing for a balance of artifice and emotional satisfaction."
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Z
May 30th, 2017

“The revival features a nuanced and poignant portrayal by Jah…John Ellison Conlee is a compelling Baron Docteur…A pair of stellar performances…Kevin Mambo, The Negro Resurrectionist narrator, keeps the action moving along, although his innumerable 'Footnote' asides and 'Historical Extract' interjections are acquired tastes. Other plot devices, some successful some too clever by half, include an autopsy performed during intermission and a play-within-a-play construct.”
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T
May 24th, 2017

"'Venus' uses theatricality as a means to interrogate the moral satisfactions of theater...The play’s themes are delineated through various performance styles, from naturalistic and choral to performative...Jah as Baartman dons a full body suit at the start of the show in full view of the audience. This realistic looking second skin can’t hide the actress’s delicacy, intelligence, and goodness...The troubling questions this tragedy opens up are no less relevant today than they were decades ago."
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