Finding Venus

By A.J. Llewellyn

Living in LA, I know hundreds of actors and singers and get invited to all kinds of plays, musical performances and showcases. I try to attend everything I can since I value my friendships, but sometimes the results can be questionable. When my best friend, Claire, invited me to join her on Saturday night to see a new musical at a restaurant, I had an open heart (and stomach) but had no idea what to expect.

I certainly didn’t expect one of the most moving experiences I have ever had in my life.

The restaurant, Mare’ka, a little vegan gem tucked in a strip mall on Ventura Boulevard in Studio City, was chaotic and jammed, the stage tiny.

The cast of Finding Venus sat on stools and squeezed into the small space, its star, Caroline Waters highlighted with her amazing voice, wonderful wit, her piano and guitar playing and her amazing, vibrant soul.

It was a mighty wind the Goddess Venus ushered in that frigid evening as one of her daughters shed tears and heart blood to the rapt crowd as she shared the story of her life.

Born in Norway, Caroline Waters was raised strictly under her father’s coda that success comes with discipline, discipline and discipline. She learned to play music and to perform from the time she was very young. I kept thinking of the Von Trapp family singers as she described having never had a day off as a kid. Sundays were spent exercising.

A near-fatal accident on her bicycle changed her life. After struggling to recover – alone – since her parents chose to keep touring as she lay in her hospital bed, Caroline/Venus discovered that almost dying had freed her spirit and her body. She realized she was gay but when she came out to her parents, they refused to believe it.

They brought psychiatrists home in ham-fisted efforts to convince her she was confused. In one amusing sequence, the psychiatrist told her mother, “She’s not confused. You’re confused.”

A visit to San Francisco when she was nineteen introduced her to a woman named Stefanie Stroh. For Venus, life began to make sense. All the things she’d yearned for, dreamed of, suddenly became possible.

I am in a puddle of grief as I recall this portion of the show. Venus and Stefanie were so in tune that when Venus returned to Norway and communication from Stefanie suddenly stopped, Venus became frantic. Terrible dreams of Stefanie calling out to her ruptured her sleep for months until she finally told her parents that she had to return to San Francisco to find her.

Her parents didn’t encourage the idea, her mother blurting, “What if she isn’t there?”

They finally gave Venus a letter they’d withheld from her.

Stefanie Stroh had disappeared in the Nevada desert four months ago, last seen walk toward a freeway in the town of Winnemucca.

She hasn’t been seen since.

There wasn’t a dry eye in the house – even on the stage – as Venus described her long search for Stefanie. The soul-wailing unleashed in the performance as she finally accepts she must let her sweet friend go, reduced everyone in the house to tears.

Caroline Waters is a brave woman, an even braver artist and I cannot wait to see this show again. Thanks too, must go to her incredible cast. I can’t decide where to start but will go with my heart and say that Katisse Buckingham and Jennifer Richardson’s musical accompaniment was perfect. As for the performers, Katia Moraes as Stefanie is simply wonderful. Marie Bergenholz as her mother had a sometimes thankless role but was pitch-perfect. Ottiliana Richardson, portraying a couple of different music teachers and life-guides for Venus, was exquisite.

Brian Dyer as her father had me shaking in my boots that he might force us all into the Norwegian forest for deep knee exercises.

I loved Waters’ camraderie on stage with her amazingly supportive performers, including Matthew Moore, who played the sympathetic psychiatrist.

This is art. High art. It is also a compassionate, realistic study of what unsolved mysteries can do a human life. How do we let go? How do we say goodbye when we can’t? How do we move on? How do we smile again?

We Find Venus.

Stefani Stroh remains missing, believed murdered. Her case is still open and in the show’s program, Caroline Waters has a photo of the real Stefanie with a plea for any information to be forward to the Nevada police. I found her case online:

I urge my readers to sample Caroline Waters’ special brand of music. She has a YouTube video and clips of her songs on her website: but do whatever you have to do to see her next (as yet unscheduled) show. You will be inspired, empowered and entertained.

You too, will Find Venus.

Aloha oe,


4 Responses to “Finding Venus”

  1. Hi A.J.,
    Obrigada (thank you) for supporting my dear and talent friend Caroline Waters. She deserves all the best in this world and beyond!
    Peace and Joy,
    Katia : )

  2. Hi Katia,
    Thank you for your comment. I loved this show as you can tell. It will stay with me for a very long time. Thank you for your wonderful performance in it!

  3. Hi A.J,
    How wonderful to see this !
    I am so honored to have shared the stage with Caroline Waters and the rest of our cast this past Saturday ! Caroline deserves the very very best !!!
    Peace, Marie

  4. Thank you so much, A. J. for blessing Finding Venus with such beautiful words! Amazing Ottiliana Rolandsson was actually acting as Esther, the woman from the Norwegian Church’s SOS who helped and guided me through the most difficult time, but I am sure she channeled some of my music teachers and other angels as well, so you must have picked that up energetically:)))

    Much love, Venus

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