Botticelli Venus is a two-act play for seven men and four women with some actors playing two or three parts. The unit set—representing a Greenwich Village apartment in the present, Botticelli’s studio in Renaissance Florence, and the world inside Botticelli’s paintings– is composed of a labyrinth of steps and empty windows which are also picture frames. Lights come up on Simonetta/Natalya describing Botticelli’s painting, Primavera, as various characters speak from the window frames or from the shadows and Lorenzo, pounding on the door, calls to her as Natalya, her present-day identity. Botticelli sits to one side by an easel, drinking, and Lorenzo tells Natalya that she is needed for the opening of the exhibition. We hear a fanatical voice screaming and nuns moaning while Simonetta explains that she is the Botticelli Venus as Lorenzo de’ Medici appears (Florence, Italy, 1510), identified by Simonetta, and asks why Botticelli isn’t painting. We hear the voice of Savonarola in the darkness as Lorenzo de’ Medici blames him for burning Botticelli’s paintings and making him stop creating art. Botticelli says that everything will be destroyed and says that Lorenzo de’ Medici is a hallucination sent by the Devil. Lorenzo de’ Medici leaves and Simonetta says that he was trying to help. Botticelli says that Lorenzo de’ Medici is dead and that he doesn’t understand what Simonetta means when she talks about putting herself through grad school as a stripper. Lorenzo pounds on the door and tells Natalya she will be fired if she doesn’t come out. When she says she smells something, Botticelli says they are burning his paintings in the square and we hear Savonarola screaming. Giuliano de’ Medici enters (Florence, 1470s) and wants Botticelli to paint a portrait of the married Simonetta Vespucci. After he leaves, Simonetta poses for the portrait and tells him that she is a number of different people and feels that she can almost remember the future. Giuliano enters as the light fades on Botticelli and Giuliano tries to kiss Simonetta but his brother Lorenzo comes in and tells her not to trust anybody who has money. Simonetta says she dreams of being hunted in the woods, perhaps by Lorenzo, but his wife, Clarice, and his sister, Bianca, run in giggling, pulling the Romany Girl who tells fortunes from tarot cards and palms. Looking at Lorenzo’s hand she tells him he will cry at Easter but someone else will bleed. The women run off and Lorenzo tells Giuliano to leave Simonetta alone because he is making arrangements for him to marry Jacopo Appiani’s daughter. Simonetta returns and tells Lorenzo that the Romany Girl told his wife that she’ll never be a widow. Clarice thought that meant that Lorenzo would live forever, and Simonetta says that it just meant that his wife would die first. The Romany Girl also told Simonetta that she would die soon but would live forever. After Lorenzo leaves, Giuliano tells Simonetta that, if she loves him, she will meet him at midnight in the alley behind her house. She watches him walk away and tells Botticelli that he waited until sunrise. Botticelli tells her that everyone is in love with her and she says he needs to pay attention to the signals people give him. Vespucci, her husband enters and, after she leaves, he asks the painter if she says anything about Giuliano. Botticelli says she hasn’t said anything. Vespucci says he has never been so miserable in his live because he loves his wife but she won’t let him touch her. He wants Botticelli to find out who she’s sleeping with and when he leaves Simonetta speaks to the painter from one of the empty frames. He says he is drawing sketches from a Boccaccio story about a girl being eaten by dogs for all eternity. But when the real girl sees what happens she agrees to marry the man she had previously rejected. Simonetta says the story is an example of everything that’s wrong about the way women are treated. She says she is not sleeping with anybody and wants Botticelli to teach her how to paint. Botticelli says he spent years studying with Fra Lippo Lippi, now dead, who appears eating a chicken leg in one of the frames. He comes down to Botticelli as three Nymphs join them, draping themselves on Fra Lippo. He tells Botticelli he can’t be a great artist unless he learns to enjoy women. He and the Nymphs leave and Simonetta says she wishes she could have known him. Botticelli tells her to paint whatever she sees. He says he is afraid of her and that the only thing an artist can do is keep his head down and do his work. He kisses her, passionately, and she turns to go but comes back and punches him. He falls backwards holding his nose. She leaves but comes back, kisses him, and runs out. Lights fade out on him, ending Act One.
As Act Two begins, Giuliano tells Botticelli he wants him to paint another portrait of Simonetta. Lorenzo enters and tells them that Simonetta is dead. He and his brother leave and we hear the sounds of present-day Lorenzo pounding on the door, telling Natalya that the exhibition is going to open in an hour. Simonetta explains to Botticelli that Natalya “who I used to be in the future but not any more here in the past” works at a museum in New York City that is exhibiting Botticelli’s paintings. Poliziano appears in one of the frames with the three Nymphs and speaks of lust and love. Lorenzo pounds on the door and tells Natalya a taxi is waiting. Botticelli wants them to get out of his head, saying that none of them is real. Simonetta says that Natalya, the Russian girl, felt that she was the girl in Botticelli’s painting, the Botticelli Venus. The light fades and comes up on Botticelli brooding and Simonetta watching him. Her husband, drinking from a bottle, enters and says he poisoned his wife, slowly, and then suffocated her. He says that she was pregnant although he had never had intercourse with her. Vespucci tells the painter that Giuliano and his brother Lorenzo will be stabbed to death when the priest rings the little bell at the raising of the host during the Easter mass in the cathedral. Botticelli runs out and lights fade on Vespucci and come up on Pazzi and Bandini taking a sleepy Giuliano to church as Simonetta watches from the shadows. Giuliano moves upstage with the Romany Girl to look at her flowers. The bell rings and Pazzi stabs Giuliano again and again. Bandini and Pazzi run off and Botticelli rests Giuliano’s head in his lap. In darkness we hear the voice of Savonarola preaching and then light comes up on him in one of the frames with the three Nymphs listening. Simonetta tells Botticelli that Savonarola is a grotesque lunatic but Botticelli says that he has chosen God since art brings only suffering and pain. He tells her that after she died he painted her over and over but the emptiness inside him grew and grew. Simonetta says that to make art is as close to God as we can get because God is an artist. We hear the sound of loud knocking and two demons enter to take Savonarola into the square to be burnt as a public nuisance. The Nymphs follow. Botticelli tells Simonetta that Lorenzo de’ Medici has never been the same since his brother was killed in the cathedral. She tells him about a girl named Natalya who lived in Siberia and got a scholarship to study art in America, but who was raped and had a child. The boy left her when he was nineteen and Natalya gradually became, in her head, Simonetta Vespucci, the Botticelli Venus. Simonetta says the Russian girl is insane and Botticelli says it is his fault that Simonetta died. We hear more pounding on the door and a modern Lorenzo in a suit enters as Botticelli watches from the shadows. When Lorenzo tells Simonetta that the Botticelli exhibition opens in one hour, she says she is not Natalya and that her nineteen-year-old son has been stabbed to death in an orange grove in Phoenix. She tells Lorenzo to go away. She then tells Botticelli that she is not the Russian woman any more, perhaps never was her. She says she is the nymph Simonetta and only wants Botticelli. He says Botticelli is dead and her name is Natalya and she is an artist. She goes to the easel, looks at him, and begins to paint as the light fades on them and goes out.