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"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." Full Review
"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.” Full Review
"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." Full Review
"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." Full Review
"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.” Full Review
"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." Full Review
“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.” Full Review
"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." Full Review
"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." Full Review
“'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.” Full Review
"'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." Full Review
"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." Full Review
"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." Full Review
“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.” Full Review
"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." Full Review
"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." Full Review
"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." Full Review
"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." Full Review
“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.” Full Review
“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.” Full Review
"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." Full Review
"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." Full Review
"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." Full Review
"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." Full Review
"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." Full Review
See it if you want to see one of Suzan-Lori Parks best plays. Also, a great central performance by Zainab Jah. Innovative staging.
Don't see it if you do not like avant-garde theatre or if you need to be spoon-fed ideas.
See it if tragedy, colonialism, and historical racism staged as a nonlinear circus sideshow sounds interesting.
Don't see it if you don't like experimental, non-linear, fourth-wall busting theatre. You want something naturalistic.
See it if you're a curious theatergoer (I am) or a fan of Parks' work (recently, I've become one) though you still may leave shaken but mystified.
Don't see it if you're looking for light entertainment.
See it if you like dramas that are based on true events or stories about unconventional subjects.
Don't see it if you have a difficult time sitting through stories about exploitation and disturbing themes.
See it if You like Suzan-Lori Sparks and if you do, you know what time her pieces take. Very dark vaudevillian, exaggerated, eccentric, sad--- at once
Don't see it if Your anti historical pieces, which can make you feel uncomfortable. Racial topics. Cussing. It can be slow, but, picked up. Dark humor
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.
See it if You like poetic and artistic productions about culture, race, and society.
Don't see it if You don't enjoy highly artistic and expressionistic plays that can be emotionally despairing.
See it if you are a fan of Suzan-Lori Parks or like theater that is about issues that affect our human condition. Thought-provoking and solidly acted.
Don't see it if you don't like plays that explore the politics of race. It is highly stylized so it's perhaps not the choice for those who like naturalism.
See it if Are a Park fan. Care about the history of racism and appropriations. Appreciate fine acting and creative design. Can't endure a slow Act 1.
Don't see it if You need clear, linear storytelling. Are disturbed by the mistreatment of women or are sensitive to sexual themes.
See it if you are open to non-linear play with many different theatrical styles, depicting a horrifying instance of racism and slavery; unique.
Don't see it if you are expecting a linear, happy show with little to say, a mere entertainment. This is not it. Depictions of cruel treatment throughout
See it if You're interested in historical dramas that use a variety of theatrical devices to tell a story.
Don't see it if You dislike plays that are based on true stories, but that get a bit loose with the truth to get a point across.
See it if You are already a fan of Suzan-Lori Parks as I hear it is consistent with previous work. You're interested in the specific story being told.
Don't see it if You're not in for a heavy evening (there are some lighter elements but overall it is more disturbing material). You want a traditional show.
See it if Suzan-Lori Parks beautifully written,socially conscious,historically based play about a woman brought to London to appear in a freak show.
Don't see it if If you are interested in light subjects.
See it if You'd like a little history, a well crafted powerful story, & yet another instance of how the "cultured" treat the "other."
Don't see it if You can't tolerate a slow developing plot, with a play within a play which is not immediately clear, or don't want cultural comment.
See it if you're intrigued by a true story of a 19th century African woman exploited by a white society for her physicality.
Don't see it if you don't want to be made uncomfortable.
See it if Beautifully staged retelling of Hottentot Venus focusing on strength, resilience, complicity filtered through a stylized theatrical lens
Don't see it if U want straight line narrative and don't want difficult themes of colonialism, racism, body shaming/beauty ideals and abuse of black bodies
See it if the best reason to see is the dignified and humanizing performance of the amazing Zainab Jah as the exploited Hottentot Venus
Don't see it if many hyper-stylized scenes cartoonish; weak vs. Elephant Man as insightful indictment of response to "freaks"; EM moved me, this didn't
See it if you want to understand the long relationship between Europeans and Africans and how they viewed them. It can be unsettling.
Don't see it if you still hold out-of-date views of what is right an what is wrong. Or for that matter you want a show with a nice ending.
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
See it if you've never seen the play onstage, want to engage with difficult, relevant, profound text, want to see a lovely complex lead performance.
Don't see it if you'll be frustrated by the direction fighting against the material, want even/consistent quality, are uncomfortable with simulated nudity.