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Northwestern theater season closes with award-winning play ‘Voyeurs de Venus’

Comedic drama exposes echoes of post-colonial racism and sexism in academia

Sideshow sensation Saartjie Baartman, (“The Hottentot Venus”), and the professor writing her story are the subjects of “Voyeurs de Venus,” Lydia R. Diamond’s bold and often humorous drama about power, race, relationships and publishing. 

“Voyeurs de Venus” closes Northwestern University’s Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts mainstage season May 17 to 26 in the Josephine Louis Theater, 20 Arts Circle Drive on the Evanston campus.

Sara, a young African-American scholar of pop culture, is writing a book about the 19th-century South African Khoikhoi woman Saartjie Baartman, who was exploited as the sideshow attraction “The Hottentot Venus.” The deeper Sara delves, the more she is forced to confront her own identity and complicated relationships. Haunted by dreams about Saartjie and pressured by her publisher, Sara struggles with the moral dilemma of honoring Baartman’s life and advancing her own career with a bestseller. 

Steppenwolf Theatre Company commissioned Northwestern alumna Diamond (’92 Communication) to write “Voyeurs de Venus” and it went on to win the 2006 Joseph Jefferson Award winner for “Best New Play.”

“The play asks the question, can the dead be exploited?” said director and Northwestern School of Communication MFA candidate Tasia A. Jones. “It also asks us how far are we willing to go to attain success and how do we hold onto ourselves in the process? The protagonist in this play is really struggling with these questions and we get a glimpse into her subconscious. Lydia R. Diamond has crafted something that is really complex and entertaining."

The Chicago Tribune praised playwright Diamond (“Stick Fly,” “Smart People,” “The Bluest Eye”) for her “distinctively urbane and polished voice, and sharp way of blending humor and high-mindedness.”

NOTE: “Voyeurs de Venus” is recommended for mature audiences (15 years and up) for its depictions of partial nudity, sexual intimacy, violence, blood, strong language and suggestion of rape.

Performances are Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $25 for the general public, $22 for seniors (62+) and area educators, $20 for Northwestern faculty and staff and $10 for students ($6 in advance) for Northwestern students. 

Tickets are available on the Wirtz Center website, by phone at 847-491-7282 or in-person at the Wirtz Center box office located in the lobby of the Ethel M. Barber Theater, 30 Arts Circle Drive on the Evanston campus. 

Box office hours are Tuesdays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays from noon to 4 p.m.  The box office is closed on Sundays and Mondays. 

Related event:

L. DiamondPost Show Discussion with Lydia R. Diamond and Tasia A. Jones
May 26, 2 p.m.
Josephine Louis Theater
20 Arts Circle Drive

Playwright and Northwestern alumna Diamond joins director and MFA candidate Jones for a post-show conversation immediately following the performance. 

The Wirtz Center is a member of the Northwestern Arts Circle, which brings together film, humanities, literary arts, music, theater, dance and visual arts. 

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