note: entire contents copyright 2008 by Beverly Creasey
All history is subjective—and a thorny subject where women are concerned. We only have the chroniclers’ word for what happened and that word is filtered, more often than not, through a masculine sensibility. Two very different plays about herstory make an attempt to set the record straight.
Lydia Diamond’s VOYEURS DE VENUS (playing at the BCA through Nov. 22nd) is an ambitious examination of our fascination with cultural history, set against a soapy tale (Will she leave her husband?) of a novelist searching for her own identity. (VENUS reunites Diamond and director Summer L. Williams whose THE BLUEST EYE at COMPANY ONE was my vote for best production last year.)
Kortney Adams is the professor of African-American studies with a book deal about the historical figure known as “The Hottentot Venus.” Marvelyn McFarlane gives a powerful performance as the African woman duped into servitude and paraded across Europe as a “freak” for her posterior “deformities.” She was brutalized again in death when the father of modern anatomy kept her remains on display. It’s a squeamish glimpse into the past, one intended to make us squirm. The stage springs to life when McFarlane--- and the clever choreography --- command the stage but the contemporary story fades in comparison.
Wendy Wasserstein’s THE HEIDI CHRONICLES (at Cambridge YMCA through Nov. 22nd) is another, whiter, examination of our cultural history set against another soapy tale of a yet another novelist searching for her own identity. Heidi has it all: a PhD, fabulous friends, a prestigious job and she came of age in the turbulent ‘60s. So what, according to Wasserstein, does an enlightened woman need to feel fulfilled? No, it’s not a book deal.
I won’t spoil the story to tell you but suffice it to say feminists must have faltered in their tracks when this play debuted. I know this flower child did. Wasserstein leaves the Civil Rights and anti-war movements completely out of her account of Feminism, when they were all threads of the same cloth---and she manages to trivialize the contributions of women who gave their all so she could write. One of the perks of the Longwood Players’ production is a giant screen for projections, to make up the gap, like the nifty photo of proto-feminists from Bella Abzug to Maya Angelou.
Philana Gnatowski gives a tour de force performance as the title woman sorely in need of a feminist refresher course. Another of Longwood’s strengths is Victor Shopov as Heidi’s smart, mouthy best friend. Director Catherine M. Bertrand stresses the caricature in most scenes but Shopov’s righteous indignation speech at the end of the play makes the HEIDI CHRONICLES finally pack a punch. (Need I point out that it’s a man, not a woman, with the best lines in the play? Ouch!)