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A CurtainUp Review
Venus In Orange

Leave it to a man to try to solve the mysteries of women, in this case Tom Ormeny, director and co-founder of The Victory Theatre, who asked playwrights Paula Cizmar and Laura Shamas to create a theatre piece for The Cypress College New Play Fesival. The result, a rather uneven soufflé, is given a delicious premiere in its transfer to The Victory Theatre by eight highly talented actresses, as diverse ethnically and physically as the world they represent.

Venus, Goddess of Love, is the guide through a performance piece incorporating myths, legends, contemporary stories, music and dance. Perhaps because it was initially written for a college festival, the playwrights focus on the playful and entertaining aspects of their subject. Thus, the piece begins with material that seems puerile and familiar, revisiting such Seventeen Magazine topics as the desire to "look good the way I am" and a one-night exchange student stand with Olaf overseas that was "the best sex I ever had." The latter was redeemed by the charm of actress Angela Tom.

The most poignant piece is Heidi Fecht's perfectly calibrated confession of a battered housewife who doesn't tell out of fear and finally runs away. It's a sensory impression with a frustrating sense of a deeper story beneath the surface that's left unexplored. The piece misses its chances. For instance, the union of Venus, Goddess of Love, and Mars, God of War, is an ancient myth which could have been fruitfully explored. It's been a while since Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus hit the best-seller lists.

The comparison between the myth about the erotic powers conferred by Aphrodite's girdle and the popular economic power personified by such erotic lingerie emporiums as Victoria's Secret underlines the timeless quality of myths. Atalanta's race, also the subject of a play soon to open at The Powerhouse Theatre, profits from the mobile facility of Pia Days' expressions.

When the playwrights let themselves explore the dark side, they do some of their best writing. "Why I wear long sleeves, long pants, and don't look you in the eye," vividly illustrates one woman's fear of sexuality, her own and others.

Some of the most successful moments are choral ones. The moment in which all eight moan their way to lusty orgasm to rousing audience applause endorses Carly Simon's song, "That's the way we always knew it should be."

"Things I'm supposed to be nice about when all I really want to do is scream," begins with a guy who calls a woman a whore for cutting him off on the freeway and uses the writers' sense of irony to illustrate society's icon of make-nice sweetness that keeps many women too passive. Ann Stocking's keynote snarl anchors the piece in the pain beneath the irony.

Dramatic tension is difficult to sustain in the performance piece form. Kept to a brisk 90 minutes and smoothly choreographed by Karen Apostolina, it's directed by Tom Ormeny who never lets those women out of his hands and deftly colors the highs and lows of the piece with more shades than orange. One of the silent stars of the show are the orange scarves which each woman ties or drapes in an incredible variety that would make them best-sellers at Victoria's Secret.

Playwright: Paula Cizmar and Laura Shamas
Director: Tom Ormeny Choreographer: Karen Apostolina
Cast: Shonnese C.L. Coleman, Pia Days, Heidi Fecht, Nancy Mendez, Constance Smith, Ann Stocking, Angela Tom, Randi Lynne Weidman
Set Design: Cynthia Ignacio
Lighting Design: Tom Ormeny
Costume Design: John Altieri
Sound Design: William Folger
Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission
Running Dates: June 3-July 24, 2005
Where: The Victory Theatre Center, 3326 W. Victory Blvd, Burbank, PH: (818) 841-5421.
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on June 4.

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