Andrew Kooman’s lauded play about sex trafficking, She Has a Name, has returned home after a 13-city Canadian tour with a more polished script — and also more raw, emotional punch.
For one thing, the local playwright has wisely cut the play’s intermission from this latest version of his drama, which runs until Saturday at the Scott Block in downtown Red Deer.
What the audience gets is a non-stop, 90-minute tour de force production that’s both action-packed and ultimately gut-wrenching.
The play, directed by Stephen Waldschmidt of Calgary’s Burnt Thicket Theatre, is now more powerfully focused on No. 18, a teenage prostitute held captive in Bangkok, Thailand.
The young brothel worker — played with a glimmer of hope by Vancouver actor Evelyn Chew — starts out by playing the sexpot. But when all her artifice is stripped away, No. 18 flinches at the memories of the normal life she led before being sold into prostitution as a child.
The vulnerable girl gradually opens up about her wretched existence to Jason, a human rights lawyer who’s posing as a john. The irony is he must ask No. 18 to first risk her neck by testifying against her ruthless captors.
Chew realistically depicts the teenager’s agony over this impossible choice — can she really trust Jason, and can she afford to bet her life on his gamble of a court case?
All of No. 18’s doubts and fears are amplified by shrouded Greek chorus of Voices that expresses her internal torment. The play’s most affecting moment is when the Voices allow No. 18 to recall the weather-beaten face of her late father, who’d held the family together while he lived.
In this version of the play that premiered in the city last year, Kooman also uses the eerie, atmospheric chorus to plague Jason’s guilt-wracked dreams.
Washington State actor Carl Kennedy plays Jason (and also the pimp) with great restraint and subtlety. As Jason, he’s clearly tortured to be unable to help so many abused young women because he lacks court evidence. But there’s no trace of self-pity or self-importance in his portrayal.
By not overplaying his hand, Kennedy never makes this play seem like it’s more about Jason than the young woman in the brothel.
Kooman has made other improvements, such as toning down Jason’s wife’s impatience about his absence from home. Ali, sympathetically played by Alysa van Haastert, appears more supportive and less selfish.
Jason’s boss, Marta, however, could use more finessing.
While Kooman has upped the stakes by making Marta lean on Jason to get evidence, there’s still an impersonal wordiness to their conversations that takes away from the emotion-packed plot line.
Marta, played as a one-note character by Glenda Warkentin, either needs to gain empathy or play a reduced role in the action — for She Has a Name works still works best during the hesitant, honest exchanges between No. 18 and Jason.
Sienna Howell-Holden is also superb as Mamma, the unrepentant brothel operator who forces the audience to examine the Third World poverty that fuels sex trafficking.
It’s easier to react from the gut than to actually engage in identifying what makes a human rights atrocity like this possible. But when Mamma refers to Jason’s rich background, she’s taking a shot at all the Western countries that allow the sex trade to flourish at the expense of poor, Third World victims.
Kooman has done much to raise awareness of human trafficking with this play, which received a standing ovation from a full-house crowd on Tuesday.
You can see it for that reason. Or you can buy a ticket simply because She Has a Name provides a thought-provoking, compelling evening of theatre. Either way, you’ll be glad you saw a drama that has wowed audiences at fringe festivals across the country.
A panel discussion about sex trafficking will be held after Saturday’s matinee. Tickets are available from www.shehasaname.net or by calling 1-800-838-3006.