Review by Laureen F. Guenther -
Picture a 15-year-old girl, locked in her room. A constant stream of people visit. Most of them are men. None are her friends. They pay her boss for the right to do whatever they want with her. So that’s what they do. Over and over again.
When the girl was even younger, her desperate, widowed mother sold her to strangers. The strangers, not always kind, shipped her from country to country, using her in this city for a few months, then elsewhere for a few more months. Now the girl frantically employs all the tricks in her repertoire to service customers in a Bangkok brothel, fearfully protecting the only thing she has left – her life.
She is known only as Number 18. Even her name has been taken from her.
One day, a new customer, Jason, acts strangely. He has paid to use her services, but he doesn’t want them. He asks questions instead. He wants to know what country she’s from. He asks how she was brought to Thailand. He’s come from Canada, but not as a customer; he’s trying to build a case against the traffickers who brought her here.
At first, Number 18 doesn’t answer Jason’s questions. But when he comes back again, and again, she begins to trust him. And to hope, just a little.
Maybe, after all, her life will not end in this place.
Andrew Kooman was inspired to write She Has A Name after attending a conference on human trafficking, and the play presented its world premiere in Calgary in 2011. This year, directed by Stephen Waldschmidt and with slight changes to cast and dialogue, the play is even sharper. More tender. More brutal.
Evelyn Chew plays an astounding Number 18 – a provocative, worldly-wise prostitute and childlike, vulnerable teenager. She’s so determinedly seductive that Jason, trying to help her, has to fight off her advances. Yet she also cries genuine tears, with her nose running. She wipes the tears on her skirt and plays with its hem as a little girl might. Like a child, she impulsively jumps into the arms of Jason, her would-be rescuer. When she’s been injured by customers at a brothel “party”, her hesitant movements are so realistic, I felt almost-physical pain along with her. I was so drained by the intensity of Chew’s performance I marvel that she does it day after day.
With dialect coaching by Nathan Schmidt, Number 18 speaks in short sentences, with the cadence of someone whose first language is other than English. She does it so convincingly, I briefly wondered if Chew herself is a fluent English speaker. (She is.)
Carl Kennedy powerfully plays Jason, the novice legal investigator who’s desperate to build a workable legal case and make a difference for Number 18. With a quick costume change, Kennedy becomes the pimp who controls and terrifies her.
The cast is rounded out by Jason’s longing-for-him wife, at home in Canada (Alysa van Haastert); cruel brothel Mamma (Sienna Howell-Holden); and Jason’s antagonistic, incompetent supervisor Marta (Glenda Warkentin). These actors are also the Voices who haunt Number 18 and Jason throughout, sometimes evilly, sometimes lovingly. Only at the end does it become clear who they are.
She Has A Name is like the issue it presents – frank, gripping, raw. The topic, and some language and scenes make it inappropriate for young children and young teens. Some adult readers of Maranatha News may also find it too gritty.
But whether or not the play is for us, the reality of human trafficking is something we cannot, we must not, ignore.
Visit, www.shehasaname.net for tickets to the cross-country tour.
Learn more about Andrew Kooman: www.andrewkooman.com . Andrew will speak at the Inscribe writers’ conference in Wetaskiwin, Alberta, in September, 2012. See www.inscribe.org/events/fall-conference/ for details.
Laureen Guenther lives in Alberta and writes book and play reviews for Maranatha News. Read her blog at http://reeniesresources.blogspot.com.
(Photo by: Kelsey Krogman)