Local playwright Andrew Kooman’s powerful play about sex trafficking, She Has a Name, is returning to where it first began.
Having earned positive reviews from Victoria to Halifax, the dramatic production by Calgary’s Burnt Thicket Theatre is wrapping up a 13-city national tour a with an Oct. 2-6 run at the Scott Block theatre in downtown Red Deer.
“We just closed in Vancouver, where it was really well attended,” said Kooman.
“I heard a lot of people were impacted by the story. They enjoyed the play and were shocked and surprised by the issue.”
She Has a Name was chosen as a “Pick of the Fringe” in Victoria and earned Edmonton actor Sienna Howell-Holden a Spirit of the Fringe Award in Vancouver.
Kooman is pleased that his drama about a human rights lawyer’s encounters with a captive young prostitute generated a lot of feedback and discussion where ever it played.
“I can’t believe (the tour) is winding down . . . but it’s a real honour to have it close in Red Deer, where it all started.”
The play was written with some mentoring from the local Scripts at Work program, offered annually at Red Deer College.
Kooman approached the subject of sex trafficking both as a playwright and as a human rights advocate.
To raise public awareness of women who are being abused in Canada and around the world, he organized panel discussions after some of the play’s cross-Canada performances.
Such a talk will take place at about 3:45 p.m. after the Saturday, Oct. 6, matinee in Red Deer.
Kooman said the speakers will include a woman who was forced into prostitution in the Red Deer area and around Alberta, a human rights investigator, an awareness co-ordinator with the RCMP, and foreign aid workers.
The panel discussion and ensuing question-and-answer period is free to anyone wanting to attend. “You don’t have to see the play first,” said Kooman.
She Has a Name is a different drama than it was a year ago.
But it still begins with a tour-de-force encounter between a young Thai sex worker, known only as Number 18 (played by Vancouver’s Evelyn Chew), and a impassioned human rights lawyer named Jason (Vancouver actor Carl Kennedy).
Jason struggles to convince the frightened teenager to testify against her captors, while at the same time, realizing her anguish at being placed in such an impossible position.
Nefarious brothel owner Mama San, played by the awarded Howell-Holden, of Edmonton, still attempts to thwart Jason’s efforts. And tensions are further heightened by an atmospheric Greek chorus of ghostly women who fill Number 18 with more doubts and fears.
But Kooman said the latest version of the drama, directed by Stephen Waldschmidt, no longer gives audience members an intermission to recover from some of the emotional intensity of the first act.
The most significant changes concern scenes between Jason and his boss.
In the earlier version of She Has a Name, the two debate human rights issues on a philosophical level. But in the new version, Kooman said the boss puts definite demands upon Jason that he must try to deliver on.
“She’s really cracking down on him about getting (Number 18) to testify.”
Kooman believes the changes have ramped up the play’s impact.
After focusing on such difficult subject matter for so long, one might think that the playwright would be ready to write a comedy next.
But no such thing for Kooman, who has penned two new plays that similarly ask big questions about humanity’s failings.
He delves into Holland’s divided loyalties during the Second World War with Delft Blue and provides a window into a Soviet prison camp in the 1950s with We Are The Body.
Kooman, who hopes to stage both new plays someday, admitted he is repeatedly drawn to the dramatic. “It’s always about raising awareness and asking these big, human questions — such as how can somebody ever exploit another person like that?”