You will remember She Has A Name

The thin Asian prostitute tries posing like a Playboy centrefold, but there’s an underlying desperation to the move.

Aaron Krogman and Denise Wong in a scene from the play She Has A Name.

Aaron Krogman and Denise Wong in a scene from the play She Has A Name.

The thin Asian prostitute tries posing like a Playboy centrefold, but there’s an underlying desperation to the move.

Instead of appearing sexy, she looks like a 10-year-old trying to be alluring — pathetic, funny and a little grotesque.

The memorable “sexy” pose is struck by a captive brothel worker in the first few minutes of the drama She Has a Name, by Red Deer playwright Andrew Kooman. And it does more to elicit audience empathy than later speeches other characters make about how horrendous human sex trafficking is or how horrible it feels to witness such evil.

Through her body language, the teenage prostitute, who’s devastatingly portrayed in this Burnt Thicket Theatre production by talented Calgary actress Denise Wong, actually shows us her fear, anguish — and hope.

This last emotion is caught when the girl, known only as Number 18, locks eyes with human rights lawyer Jason, played by Aaron Krogman.

Despite her doubts, the prostitute badly wants to believe Jason’s promises of rescue — and the image of her pleading expression will linger in your mind long after the play is over.

She Has a Name, which sold out its Calgary run and is now showing at the Scott Block in Red Deer, is an interesting and thought-provoking drama that works — almost despite itself.

Kooman has created electrifying scenes between Jason and Number 18 that will make audience members hang onto every word that passes between them, as the lawyer tries to pry information from the prostitute to build a case against her trafficking pimp.

But he has also given us less riveting scenes between Jason and his wife, who initially resents his three-week absence from home to investigate human trafficking in Bangkok.

Don’t many oilfield wives have to cope with longer absences than that?

And there are didactic exchanges between Jason and his human rights agency boss who works for the U.S. State Department.

The two argue about how to go about “doing what’s right.”

Predictable platitudes such as “It’s easier to destroy something than to build,” are uttered — as is the cliché sentiment “I’d like to cut off his balls” — which Jason directs towards a pedophile predator.

Jason also talks about his emotional suffering while investigating such horrors. But who really cares about his anguish when it clearly pales in comparison with that of Number 18?

Although this play should be her story, too often it becomes his.

All the same, She Has a Name works as a dramatic vehicle because, when Kooman focuses on the conversations between Number 18 and Jason, he shows his gift for creating powerful, believable dialogue that can draw an audience in.

The playwright and Wong make us care for the young captive prostitute, even knowing that a happy ending could prove elusive.

This two-hour play, directed by Stephen Waldschmidt, uses some interesting plot devices, including a three-person Greek chorus that eerily ushers Number 18 towards her fate.

And the drama is full of good performances, notably by Wong and Krogman, and Sienna Howell-Holden’s portrayal of the hardened brothel madam, Mamma San.

Perhaps most importantly, the play shines a much needed light on human trafficking and sex slavery — crimes that most of us feel helpless about stopping.

Kooman has said he tried to narrow the focus to one young girl’s story because saving one life seems more possible than saving thousands.

Anyone who wonders what can be done should see the play, then act by contacting one of six international organizations (listed on a program insert) that are trying to make a difference.

She Has a Name continues through Saturday. Tickets are available at the door.

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com