Sexy Spring has sprung and love is in the air in Shakespeare Dallas’ staged reading of Venus and Adonis.
Director Sara Boland-Taylor has adapted and staged Shakespeare’s narrative poem par excellence as the second part of the "Shakespeare Unplugged" series. Perhaps many are not aware of this poem in narration, but no other work by the Bard was as popular or beloved in his lifetime as the sensual, comical and tragic-comic Venus and Adonis. Taken from a story in Ovid’s Metamorphoses and given a bit of a twist to titillate Elizabethan audiences (Adonis rejects Venus’ advances in this version), Shakespeare considered the poem his first work of true literary value. Plays at the time were seen as occupying a much lowlier status than poetry.
The story of the poem is that Venus (Jenny Ledel), the goddess of love, is smitten with the gorgeous young mortal, Adonis (Justin Locklear). She tries many unsuccessful ploys and arguments to woo him; however, he demurs that he is much too young for love and would rather spend his time hunting with friends. Long poem short, Adonis goes boar hunting the next day, despite Venus’ fearful warnings, and is killed. Out of his spilt blood a purple flower grows, and Venus vows to keep it forever, proclaiming that love is destined to always end in sadness.
Having a staged reading of the poem, more staged than read, works wonders for the material. Being spoken aloud by gifted actors in an intimate setting opens up the poetic musicality of the language in a dynamic way. Boland-Taylor’s interpretation of the poem’s action, and her use of a full cast to embody it, are strokes of genius. She has created a vision of an obscure Elizabethan poem that smolders and drips with racy eroticism.
Ledel, as the insatiable and lusty Venus, captivates with her every sinuous move and viscerally felt emotion. At first glance, she seems too young to be a goddess, but her command of the language, punctuated by her lilting, dulcet tones, announces forthwith that she can fill the love god’s celestial toga with inspiring grace and talent.
Locklear does his amiable best playing the prudish Adonis as a wide-eyed country boy with looks to sway an immortal. The rest of the cast, named for five of the nine muses from Greek mythology, do a magnificent job of providing the narration of the poem and taking on the action of the descriptions therein. The audience will never look at horses, boars or hunting dogs the same way.
The only negative is that there is only performance left of this radiant interpretation of one of Shakespeare’s longest poems. It is a pity that more theatergoers will not have a chance to catch a glimpse of the young Stratford playwright’s prowess as he sews the seeds of genius in a voice we are normally not accustomed to hearing in the theater.
In the immortal words of those muses of the pop variety concerning Venus, "She's got it, yeah baby she's got it."