The story of #18

Here’s a show I almost missed, and I HATE almost missing shows!  If it hadn’t been for a diligent, last-minute postering campaign by someone related to the show in the days before it hit town, I never would have even heard about it.  Something’s gotta be done about this!  Naturally, I blame myself, and shall endeavour to fix the problem.  How to help touring, non-festival shows get a little publicity going for their work!  Any ideas?  Drop me a line!

…but I digress!   The show in question is  SHE HAS A NAME from Alberta’s Burnt Thicket Theatre and playwright Andrew Kooman , currently touring the country on a Fringe tour, and hitting any and all stop sin between.  A co-production with Raise Their Voice, the show is out to shed much-needed light on the worldwide plague of human trafficking and sexual slavery, much like Ottawa’s own THE WALK did last year.  This one, like the Walk, centers around two central characters…in this case Jason (Carl Kennedy), an idealistic attorney working undercover in the brothels of Bangkok to try and build an international case, and a young prostitute only known as ‘Number 18’ (Evelyn Chew) whom he befriends.  To say Jason faces an uphill battle is kind of like saying the sex trade in Bangkok is turning a tidy profit.  Pretty sad, but pretty undeniably true.

Jason is aided in his efforts by his tough-as-shit boss Marta (Glenda Warkentin), while trying to maintain relations with his wife back in Canada (Alysa van Haastert).  Opposition comes in the form of the calculatingly cruel madam (Sienna Howell-Holden) and nightmarish pimp (Kennedy, doing a rather intriguing double duty as would be hero AND villain both).  The ladies of the play also occasionally team up onstage as an ethereal chorus, offering both words of comfort and wringing accusations.  Director Stephen Waldschmidt crafts a nice scene in this show, and for the most part avoids the trap of ‘message’ plays.

The trap, of course, is that the message itself (in this case, sex trafficking=bad) outweighs the whole ‘good theatre’ part of it, and there are a few moments when it falters…the focus on Jason and his trials comes at the expense of the story of #18 herself (and Evelyn Chew’s performance is just bloody wonderful, folks, I gotta tell ya).  And once or twice the script does tend to bludgeon you well and good with moral righteousness.  Fair enough, really.  But the story moves along swimmingly, and does a great job at exposing just how widespread, monstrous and…well, on the face of it at least…nearly unsolvable a problem this is.  Kennedy as Jason IS great…he’s a fine villain too, but it’s his work as struggling crusader that really shines, especially when he begins to doubt himself.  And the supporting work is stellar to boot.   Haastert’s distant wife Ali was surprisingly effective, and Howell-Holden couldn’t help but engage you as the savage, savvy ‘Mamma-san’.   But it’s really Chew as #18 who sells the whole show, personifying the corrupted innocent who has internalized the monstrosity of her imposed new life.  It’s powerful medicine, kids, and more than worth a look.

The show plays until the 10th at Academic hall on Ottawa U campus, for the steal price of 27 bucks.  Help these good folk out on their cross-Canada tour, and look into an important cause ya probably don’t think about too much at the same time. And just what IS #18’s name..?  Sorry. You’ll have to see the show to find out.  Peace, love and soul,

The Visitor (and Winston)

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