Venus Rising At Northern Stage: The Not-So-Bitter End

Folded into the sheets at the Four Seasons, ordering room service. If life was merciful, that's where we'd be (or the equivalent). But it's not. We grow old, and pain seeps in, and the bucket list, if there is one, sees nothing ticked off.

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Cora (Diane J. Findlay) isn't having it. The first scene of Venus Rising, in its world premiere and just opened at Northern Stage, finds her in a 1950s-style housecoat, nestled into a Barcalounger, grimacing her way through her arthritis while binge-watching Blue Bloods. A few weeks later in Scene Two, Cora emerges in a wild floral print, quick-stepping her way around the kitchen with a gleam in her eye and plans for the day. How she has transformed herself is a mystery that plays out through interaction with her daughter, Julie (Laurel Casillo), recently separated and living with her mother. Here's the spoiler: Cora's hell-bent on self-determination. She is making her own choices about medical care, romantic relationships, and even the aforementioned hotel room service.

Kenneth Kimmins and Diane J. Findlay. Photo by Kata Sasvari

Aging--and ageism--are only part of the drama in this previously workshopped play by local playwright Marisa Smith. Julie and her mother both find themselves contemplating their lives' next chapters. While Cora struts, however, Julie frets in her new-age hypochondria. She may be merely muddling through her own life but she has strong opinions about Cora's. She pushes, Cora parries and occasionally pushes back. Every daughter who has ever had a mother, and vice versa, will recognize the mother-daughter dynamics.

It's a dense-with-ideas 90 minutes, including additional themes of opioid addiction, frazzled childhood friendships, and late in life sexual encounters. Grace (Laurie Wells) is a recovering addict and daughter-by-choice to Cora; she's overly demonstrative, which plays well against Julie's reserve. Winslow (Kenneth Kimmins) is a neighbor who brings possibility (of more than one kind) into Cora's life.

Laurie Wells and Laurel Casillo. Photo by Kata Sasvari

Despite the weighty topics, the play is funny, too. Cora lives in a miasma of new technology whose vocabulary she can't quite master. "Go Netflix somebody," she admonishes her daughter.

Venus Rising is directed by Jess Chayes, new to Northern Stage as its Associate Artistic Director under the BOLD Program, created by Producing Artistic Director Carol Dunne with a grant from the Pussycat Foundation. (Read more about it here.) The set (Reid Thompson, Scenic Designer) is spot-on and an aesthetic treat.

Venus Rising runs through February 17, 2019 at the Barrette Center for the Arts in White River Junction, Vermont. Tickets are available online at www.northernstage.org and through the box office at 802.296.7000.

(Top photo: Laurel Casillo and Diane J. Findlay. Photo by Kata Sasvari.)

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