Venus Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

With a cast of four and a chorus of five, thirty-one scenes, and a number of original songs, Venus—the true-life story of Saartjie Baartman, the Venus Hottentot—is brought to life by Parks; she received her second Obie Award as the best Off-Broadway play of the year in 1996 for it. In 1810, Baartman, a member of the Khoi-San peoples of South Africa, was transported to London and Paris, where she was dubbed “The Hottentot Venus” and put on public display in near nude conditions. Her “act” generated a thriving business: the display of her genitalia and buttocks, determined to be “abnormal” by European standards, was not only the source of the attraction but also became the model for black female uniqueness during the Victorian era. These facts provide Parks with the opportunity to fashion a drama that concerns itself less with history than with the quirkiness of society. Venus follows Baartman’s experience in Europe from her departure from Africa to her untimely death in Paris and finds fascination with the relationship between this “Venus” and her sponsor, the Baron Docteur, thereby becoming a most unusual love story.

As in her other historical dramas, Venus pays more attention to paradox, humor, irony, and personal tragedy than to the facts. Parks takes advantage of the unusual situation surrounding the life and times of Saartjie Baartman to bring contemporary racial clichés and stereotypes into clear focus. Using her unique style of dialogue and relying on Brechtian techniques, she develops a situation of the side-show carnival where exhibitions of the strange and exotic were common. In her own words, Parks saw Baartman as “vain, beautiful, intelligent, and yes, complicit. I write about the world of my experience.”

Venus Bibliography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Bernard, Louise. “The Musicality of Language: Redefining History in Suzan-Lori Parks’s The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World.” African American Review 31, no. 4 (Winter, 1997): 687-699.

Brown, Rosellen. “Stumbling from Stage to Page.” New Leader 86, no. 3 (May/June, 2003): 37-39.

Brustein, Robert. “The Element of Surprise.” New Republic 222, no. 4 (January 24, 2000): 31-35.

Brustein, Robert. “What Do Women Playwrights Want?” New Republic 206, no. 15 (April 13, 1992): 28-31.

Bryant, Aaron. “Broadway, Her Way.” Crisis (The New) 109, no. 2 (March/April, 2002): 43-46.

Drukman, Steven. “A Show Business Tale/Tail.” American Theatre 13, no. 5 (May/June, 1996): 4-6.

Drukman, Steven. “Suzan-Lori Parks and Liz Diamond.” TDR 39, no. 3 (Fall, 1995): 56-76.

Elam, Harry J., Jr. “The Postmulticultural: A Tale of Mothers and Sons.” In Crucible of Cultures: Anglophone Drama at the Dawn of the New Millennium, edited by Marc Maufort and Franca Bellarsi. Brussels: Peter Lang, 2002.

Garrett, Shawn-Marie. “The Possession of Suzan-Lori Parks.” American Theatre 17, no. 8 (October, 2000).

Graham, Don. “Not-So-Great Plains.” Texas Monthly 31, no. 10 (October, 2003): 74-78.

Rayner, Alice, and Harry J. Elam, Jr. “Unfinished Business: Reconfiguring History in Suzan-Lori Parks’s The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World.” Theatre Journal 46, no. 4 (December, 1994): 447-461.

Roach, Joseph. “The Great Hole of History: Liturgical Silence in Beckett, Osofisan, and Parks.” The South Atlantic Quarterly 100, no. 1 (Winter, 2001): 307-316.

Ryan, Katy. “’No Less Human’: Making History in Suzan-Lori Parks’s The America Play.” Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism 13, no. 2 (Spring, 1999): 81-94.

Smith, Wendy. “Words as Crossroads: Suzan-Lori Parks.” Publishers Weekly 250, no. 19 (May 12, 2003): 37-39.

Sova, Kathy. “A Better Mirror.” American Theatre 17, no. 3 (March, 2000): 32.

Wood, Jacqueline. “Sambo Subjects: ’Declining the Stereotype’ in Suzan-Lori Parks’s The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World.” Studies in the Humanities 28, nos. 1/2 (June-December, 2001): 109-120.

Young, Jean. “The Re-objectification and Re-commodification of Saartjie Baartman in Suzan-Lori Parks’s Venus.” African American Review 31, no. 4 (Winter, 1997): 699-709.