Venus And Mona
nytheatre.com review by Carissa Cordes
August 15, 2010
Venus and Mona, by Leslie Bramm, is the story of two identical twin sisters whose father walked out on them when they were little and whose mother, whom they call "Junky/drunk," was filled with "hate-rage" and pitted the sisters against each other. As little girls they created a world filled with rules, sacrifices, and "Slugfests" to survive the very real demons in their lives. The play starts off with a bruised Venus beating herself as Mona, in very stylish clothing, climbs to the top of Junky/drunk's double-wide trailer in the San Francisco Bay Area to meet her. Mona has returned from London—where she works as an actress—because their mother has just had a brain aneurysm. We are treated to a world that seems to be partly placed in the fantastical with invisible, violent demons only the twins can see and a tree that moves. The prevailing rule in their world is that they have to battle it out with fists and the winner is allowed to safely leave the roof and go through "the heap" which is later revealed to be a lifetime of trash. The question is, will Venus and Mona be able to fight their demons and reconcile with one another?
At one point a detective, who is revealed to be their mother's boyfriend, arrives for a date and with the stolen dead body of their mother also on the roof offers the twins a different perspective on the woman they thought they knew. The detective's story about their mother in the grocery store is especially poignant and resonant, as anyone who has attended a funeral or wake knows; sometimes we don't know the deceased as well as we thought we did.
The fight choreography, by Carrie Brewer, and subsequent bruises and makeup are well choreographed and executed. Rarely are there such strong female characters and more rarely are the actresses given the opportunity to fight. With the strength of these characters and with what seems to be the main point of the piece—reconciliation and finding the strength to move on and care for oneself—there are a few moments in the script that ring a little hollow or seem at odds with the rest of the play. Mona had the strength to leave her abusive mother and follow her dreams, yet she is seen as a sex symbol because she consciously flashes her beautiful body on screen and off. Mona also seduces a man to save her from the rooftop. She ultimately decides to not go with him because she wants to help her sister, but in a play about strong females, a man comes in to save them and throw away their trash. Also, I accepted the fantastical elements of the play, they seemed like a fairy tale, symbolic of something else, but the man offered the explanation that these monsters were really imaginary. This put a kind of scrutiny on the rest of the play.
Venus and Mona entertains and is successful overall. As the dead mother, Bridget McMillan is especially creepy. Mayaan Schneider (Venus) Nam Holtz (Mona) work well together and are well-suited to each other onstage. Holtz brings a perkiness and humanity to Mona that clashes beautifully with the scrappiness and hardness of Schneider's Venus. Dan Via's lovely Detective Neil Cortes brings some calm and perspective to the twins' storm. There is a lot of truth in the production: the previously mentioned new perspectives on the mother they thought they knew, the sibling rivalry and fierce bond because of or in spite of that rivalry and personal mythology.
I am interested to see what happens to this play and to discover the other female characters of Leslie Bramm.