Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks, author of TopDog/Underdog, never shies away from interesting and provocative stories. And that rings true with Parks’ Venus, now at City Theatre, loosely based on a true story of a young African woman brought to London in 1810 to be displayed as a freak.
Not only was the young woman billed as the “Hottentot Venus” gawked and poked at for her tribal traits that included a large posterior, but even in death her brain and genitalia were inhumanly displayed as physical oddities.
Parks doesn’t tell the story in a traditional method—she layers stylized storytelling. Though at times it feels like Parks throws too many things in the mix (including first and second acts that seem oddly mismatched), the overall result is thought-provoking and thoroughly entertaining.
City Theatre director Kim McCann-Lawson takes on the challenge of presenting Venus and comes out with a winning production, thanks to her careful yet innovative staging and the talents of her well-chosen cast. Dominique Jones beautifully blends pathos and pride in her portrayal of Venus, and Jenna Cedusky gives a memorable performance as the unsympathetic Mother Showman. George Sanford and Anthony Person are also impressive in their lead roles, and all are strongly supported by a 10-person chorus.
This is the kind of theater that provides great fodder for after-theater discussions, and will linger in your thoughts long afterward.