Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Daughter of Venus"

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note: entire contents copyright 2009 by Larry Stark

"Daughter of Venus"

by Howard Zinn
Directed by Wesley Savick

Piano Improvisation by Paula Langton
Scenic Design by Jon Savage
Lighting Design by Steve McIntosh
Assistant Lighting Designer Dale Placek
Costume Design by Seth Bodie
Sound Design by David Remedios
Assistant Stage Manager Elizabeth Luchs
Production Stage Manager Maureen Lane

Paolo.............Ken Cheeseman
Aramintha..........Angie Jepson
Lucy..............Paula Langton
Jamie..............Alex Pollock
Lendl...........Stephen Russell

You'd expect a play by People's Historian and Professional Gadfly Howard Zinn to be a clash of ideas. What's exciting about "Daughter of Venus" though is its subtle interplay of metaphor and history, science and government, staged as a blazing argument between father and daughter over weapons-research. The play, updated after it was originally produced 24 years ago, is still ringingly topical, searingly emotional and, under the imaginative direction of Wesley Savick, lovingly acted. The play opened at the Suffolk University Theatre but will move to the Boston Playwrights' Theatre at B.U. to finish the run. When you call for tickets --- and you should! --- ask Where it will be when.

At the center of the play is Ken Cheeseman as Paolo, a nuclear scientist whose golden days were spent computing the dangers from Atom-test radiation and proving, by insisting on fair tests, that Reagan's star-wars defense wouldn't work. His son (Alex Pollock) is retarded but becoming aware that his memory doesn't work like other people's --- and, is his condition a result of his own father's doses of test radiation? --- and his wife (Paula Langton) is in an asylum since, after a lifetime of war-protest she tried to kill herself.

These two need expensive medical care, and at just the right moment a mephistophelean old comrad from the H-bomb research days (Stephen Russel) offers Paolo a write-your-own-salary Rand Corporation position researching effects of a brand new secret space-weapon. The position is one of power --- a chance to make the government listen, a chance perhaps to make war more humane.

But then there's Angie Jepson as his daughter, back from a post-graduate stay in backwater Haiti, who thinks of war and weapons as useless blunt instruments solving nothing and perpetuating danger. She demands no compromise with "scientific" reality and insists that to participate in government, even supposedly to reform it, is to agree to self-corruption.

Jon Savage has given Zinn's play a slightly surreal set focused on the family living-room, with an often silent mother sitting or standing at a piano on a raised platform. From there she can watch and react to every twist of argument; she can speak or step into scenes from the couple's past; and in the second act she can come into the action on a week-end trial visit when the explosive philosophical debate comes to a head.

Of course these people all reflect ideas in conflict, but they are also vibrantly human people whose love for one another is always obvious, even when their arguments and actions are the most wounding. Who wins may affect the fate of the nation, the world, all humanity --- it will affect their lives together in any case.

Studded throughout this exciting show are quotes ("The unarmed idealist is doomed") and metaphors ("If your gun has six chambers and mine only five I'll want one with ten --- even when it takes only one bullet to kill" --- a perfect description of the A-bomb Arms Race) that make the surface ripple with deeper truth. The play calls into question the major assumptions of international politics and, by making them human, makes people think.
And, since the 20th of January, this country certainly needs such thinking.


"Daughter of Venus" (22 January - 8 February)
@ 55 Temple Street, BOSTON MA &
@ 949 Commonwealth Avenue, BOSTON MA

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide