Suzan-Lori Park’s “Venus”

March 8, 2010 at 2:16 pm (Multicultural Lit)

This play was very contemporary, and took full advantage of the ability of modern playwrights to experiment with staging, pace and tempo in drama. Its subject matter also necessarily deals with issues of race, gender, and sexuality.  The issue of race follows many of the expected tracks when the subject under discussion is a black woman who is exhibited for a white audience. The issue of slavery is certainly present in the background, as is the issue of sexual relations and sexual attraction between the black and white characters. However, one of the aspects of the race issue that was most interesting to me was the extensive use of chocolate throughout. The Venus character is motivated to perform certain actions throughout the play by being given chocolate, and at several points chocolate is associated strongly with love. However, the associations between chocolate and love and chocolate and Venus must point the reader in the direction of interracial sexual relations, a problematic subject in this text, as the interracial sex taking place has definite overtones of coercion and slavery. The use of chocolate in this play is further complicated by scene 3 “A Brief History of Chocolate.” This scene reminds/informs the reader as a substance originating in the Americas, and one that was associated with religious ritual. This scene seems to me to complicate the way that chcolate is used in the play even further. On a very simplistic level I suppose that one could equate the “primitive” tribes of Africa with the “primitive” tribes of the Americas, but that feels reductionist and overly simple for a playwright who succeeds in bringing up a whole host of other issues in a much more subtle way.

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