Best production of the year, without a shadow of the doubt
|Her Story Theater presents|
Review by Keith Glab
Based on Mary Bonnett’s interviews with Chicagoland people who have been involved in sex trafficking, Shadow Town paints a disturbingly realistic picture of a hidden multi-billion dollar industry. Sex trafficker Prime Cut (Rashawn Thompson) guides the audience through ten lessons on how to master the art of pimping underage girls.
Prime’s grim treatise follows the lives of four adolescent girls tricked and seduced into a life of prostitution. Tatiana (Kenesha Reed) turns to this life when Prime is the first person in her life to show her any kindness. Marisol (Genesis Salamanca) goes hungry because her heroin-addicted mother (Angelina Llongueras) doesn’t provide for her. She is drawn to Prime’s lavish lifestyle and transforms into a more American-sounding Renee (Lindsey Scalise), who plays a large part in bringing Tatiana into the fold. Ling Ling (Hisako Sugeta) speaks little English, quickly falling prey to one of Prime’s associates. Sammy’s parents are overseas, so Sammy (Danielle Nicholas) seeks companionship in online chat rooms, where another of Prime’s minions tricks and breaks her.
After depicting how dysfunctional family life makes these girls susceptible to Prime and his predators, Shadow Town proceeds to expound on life within ‘the game.’ Perhaps what is most striking about this production is how evocative it is without resorting to overly graphic depictions of sex and violence. Such scenes are stylized through the gorgeously choreographed movements of an athletic cast.
Within the depressing horrors of girls trapped in this life and turned against each other, the production does offer a message of hope. Lesson Seven (“How to Save a Ho”) sounds as though it might drip with the melodrama of an after school special, but this production never goes there. The diverse, 12-deep cast remains grounded in the truth of the script and largely allows the shocking material to speak for itself.
The skilled execution of such poignant material would be enough to make this one of the top productions of 2013, but Shadow Town does not stop there. Each show opens with a song from a rotating diva, who remains to croon at The Den following a post-show Q&A. Each night Sammy’s father is portrayed by a different Chicago celebrity actor, who reads emails from her heartbroken parents. Proceeds from the ticket sales go to three different organizations benefitting victims of sex trafficking.
Simply put, this is the best show I have seen all year – even before accounting for the fact that it raises money and awareness towards the serious problem of sex-trafficking here in Chicago. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Shadow Town continues through November 17th at The Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays 3pm. Tickets are $35 through BrownPaperTickets.com, with proceeds benefitting The Salvation Army PROMISE program, Anne’s House and the Dreamcatcher Foundation. More information at HerStoryTheater.org. (Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes, NO intermission)
Photos by Katie Herst
Zahra Baker, Sunny Choi, Cody Davis, Angelina Llongueras, Danielle Nicholas, Kenesha Reed, Genesis Salamanca, Lindsey Scalise, Hisako Sugeta, Rashawn Thompson, John Zander
behind the scenes
Mary Bonnett (director, playwright, music design), Melinda Wilson, Brittany Brown (choreography), Timmy Fett, Gaye Klopack (music direction), Cat Wilson (lighting design), Jeffrey Levin (sound design), Shelly deHosse (stage manager), Stephanie Johnson (costumes), Katie Herst (photos)