Synopses & Reviews
Suzan-Lori Parks continues her examination of black people in history and stage through the life of the so-called "Hottentot Venus," an African woman displayed semi-nude throughout Europe due to her extraordinary physiognomy; in particular, her enormous buttocks. She was befriended, bought and bedded by a doctor who advanced his scientific career through his anatomical measurements of her after her premature death.
"Suzan-Lori Parks is one of the most important dramatists America has produced....Venus is based on the historically true tale of a black woman whose 'horror and fascination' derived from a large (probably not all that large) posterior. To make this woman the heroine of a serious tragedy is daring, dangerous here is a play which treads the line between pathos and absurdity, which is very hard to do, a line walked by all the great dramatists, Shakespeare and Chekhov especially. Venus also treads the fault lines of several American cultural sensibilities, moving racial cliches and stereotypes out of the unlit mutterers' corners and back to center stage, where the sight of them makes us wince. Venus expresses both a global empathy, a mourning for all of suffering humanity, and at the same time an anger at oppression and oppressors, an indictment of wrongs yet to be righted. The play places human paradoxes of love and loathing, attraction and revulsion, pleasure and denial in a historical context of racism, sexism, exploitation, voyeurism and colonialism. By contextualizing these paradoxes the play places the historical in dialogue with the eternal (if anything is eternal). All the best of Ms. Parks's writing does this: acknowledging the tragic, the immutable, while not extinguishing the possibility of mutation, of change." Tony Kushner, author of Angels in America and Homebody/Kabul
Using the metaphor of a carnival freak-show, Suzan-Lori Parks finds poetry and comedy, as well as drama and meaning, in one of the most embarrassing episodes in our collective history: the life of the Venus Hottentot, a South African woman who, due in part to her enormous posterior, was exhibited in a cage throughout Europe and exploited professionally by the doctor who loved her.
Parks' latest and most controversial work.
About the Author
Suzan-Lori Parks was born in Fort Knox, Kentucky, in 1963 and graduated from Mount Holyoke College in 1985. Her plays include In the Blood, Fucking A, The America Play, The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World, and Imperceptible Mutabilities in the Third Kingdom (which received a 1990 OBIE Award for Best New American Play). She also wrote the screenplay for Girl 6, directed by Spike Lee. She won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for Topdog/Underdog.