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Humanity’s ugliness exposed in She Has A Name

Show about sex trade is gut-wrenching, disturbing

By: Anna Borowiecki

  |  Posted: Thursday, Sep 27, 2012 11:00 am

JUST A NUMBER? - Number 18 (Evelyn Chew) is seduced by her pimp (Carl Kennedy) while the choral voices (Glenda Warkentin, Alysa Van Haastert and Sherwood Park's Sienna Howell-Holden) try to warn her.
JUST A NUMBER? - Number 18 (Evelyn Chew) is seduced by her pimp (Carl Kennedy) while the choral voices (Glenda Warkentin, Alysa Van Haastert and Sherwood Park's Sienna Howell-Holden) try to warn her.
Supplied photo

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She Has a Name
Burnt Thicket Theatre and Raise Their Voice Partnership
Running until Sept 30
Catalyst Theatre
8529 Gateway Blvd.

I’ve never left a show feeling like I needed a hot, soapy shower to cleanse myself from the greed and corruption of humanity. But She Has a Name, a bares-all production about the sex trade and child trafficking, did it for me.

As I walked out of the Catalyst’s darkened theatre into the lighted lobby, a woman behind me said to a friend, “Holy man, I cried a lot.”

The co-production between Burnt Thicket Theatre and Raise Their Voice begins with a rape scene in Thailand. As a powerful pimp zips up his pants and walks away unscathed, a young girl, bleeding from the mouth and between her legs, is left to deal with the anger, fear and shame.

She cries out, “Oh God, oh God, oh, God.” But there is only silence.

In a stark, darkened room filled only with a ratty bed and table, the underage No. 18 is abused and exploited, trapped like an animal. She is completely stripped of her identity.

Existing in inhumane conditions, No. 18 is kept subservient through psychological and physical violence. Dehumanized to the point where she is identified only through numerical digits, No. 18 is broken, barely surviving one degrading encounter after encounter.

Yet in a corner of her heart the pretty young girl retains a childlike innocence. She hopes and prays that one day a man will rescue her from the mind-numbing pain.

A young knight does arrive. A newly minted lawyer, Jason works for the United Nations, building a case against her pimp for trafficking in Thailand and Malaysia.

Jason interviews many captives. But no one is willing to testify against the pimp. They are terrified. If they testify, death is the next stop. Nervous and inexperienced, Jason is unable to reconcile the horrors he sees daily. Eventually his entire front-line efforts take a toll on the psyche.

Putting a microscope on the sex trade and child trafficking is no easy feat. Yet playwright Andrew Kooman presents a gritty, no-win situation with fallible people who find strength in each other under the worst conditions.

While there is an element of artistic licence, the Red Deer playwright has telescoped his own experiences in Asia and drawn a touching portrait of millions of sex slaves existing terror-filled lives.

This play is filled with humanity’s ugliness. However, Kooman maintains equilibrium through Jason, an idealist who arrives to better conditions, but is ultimately out of his depth in a corrupt world he was not properly prepared to fight.

The lovely Evelyn Chew as No. 18 delivers a graphic performance of a girl who lives between the memories of a once loving family life and the grainy reality of her present situation. Chew mesmerizes, swinging from one flashback situation to another – the happy child, sexy prostitute and finally the brave woman throwing off the shackles of slavery. She isn’t just acting. She is the character.

And Carl Kennedy as Jason is superb as a tormented man who gradually falls apart and questions what he’s doing. In a double role as the pimp, Kennedy delivers a powerful portrayal of evil, the kind of tyrant you’d love to lynch.

Director Stephen Waldschmidt makes this raw, gritty world come alive with a balanced hand. In one of the more humane scenes, Jason is skyping with his wife Aly back in California. Two laptops are set up back-to-back on a table as each spouse faces the other, bickering, loving and gesturing to each other about normal things No. 18 only fantasizes about.

Overall this play delivers wonderful performances and highlights the skills of extremely talented artists. She Has a Name will probably not be rated the most polished production of the season. But the impact is gut punching.

And it certainly provokes us into reflecting about the ethics and the moral stance we’ve chosen. That’s tough to do without sounding preachy, but this 90-minute production successfully navigates this shoal.

She Has a Name runs until Sunday. After the Saturday 2 p.m. matinee, a group of panelists specializing in human trafficking will offer a special presentation.


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