Venus' Daughter

Meghan Swaby examines female body image past and present in timely new play

Presented by Obsidian Theatre
Written by Meghan Swaby
Directed by Philip Akin

Kaleb Alexander and Meghan Swaby in Venus' Daughter. Photo by Lyon Smith.

Meghan Swaby’s play Venus’ Daughter is an outstanding exploration of some pernicious myths that fester at the root of contemporary North American culture. Seamlessly weaving together a variety of times and places, Swaby brilliantly demonstrates the ripple effect that past ideas can have on the present, and suggests that if we are not vigilant, those ripples of influence can continue into the future.

Venus’ Daughter begins with a poignant monologue by Sara Baartman (Akousa Amo-Aden), a historical figure who was known in early 19th century Europe as “the Hottentot Venus.” Sara was an African Khoikhoi woman whose body was put on display in cities across Europe at the height of colonialism, and who died at the age of 25. Swaby’s play gives Sara a life and voice, as the audience meets her presumably before she encountered her European captors. The play then transports us to the present day, as Torontonian Denise (Swaby) delivers an acerbic and entertaining monologue about her experiences contending with a culture that stubbornly continues to police, exoticize and sexualize black female bodies.

Deeply moving, funny and biting, Swaby’s script uses Denise’s musings as the jumping off point for a wide-ranging conversation about the lingering cultural legacy of 19th century “scientific” racism and sexism. The play’s central motif of confinement versus expansiveness is established early, as Denise discusses the fluidity of her body from within the stifling confines of a clothing store change room and the seat of an airplane. Set against the backdrop of a prison, the play’s three performers (all of whom impress in multiple roles) move together through time and space, from Sara’s Africa to Denise’s experiences as a young girl in Canada. While the actors are all equally energetic, engaging and excellent, a shout out must go to the versatility of Kaleb Alexander who manages to convincingly straddle the roles of a young Denise, a stern British 19th century “man of science,” and everything in between.

Any woman who has run headfirst into our culture’s deeply ingrained, tightly guarded gender taboos is acutely aware of the formidable force she’s up against when she steps out of line. Despite how common this experience is however, it is not one that is easily articulated, and it is apparently very difficult for the uninitiated to understand. (And when women do speak up about these experiences, our culture has myriad “ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” to quote the inimitable Todd Akin.) Within this context, Venus’ Daughter is a wonderful addition to a growing body of work that powerfully and eloquently challenges the subliminal cultural assumptions that continue to cause trouble for women of colour, and all women.

Don’t miss the opportunity to see this important and highly entertaining new Canadian play. Venus' Daughter is on stage until February 28, 2016 at The Theatre Centre (1115 Queen Street West). Visit for more information and to buy tickets.

Show Dates: 
Sun, 2016-02-14 - Sun, 2016-02-28
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