THEATER REVIEW: “Live Bodies for Sale” @ Playwrights Local by Roy Berko

Through Sun 12/15

Human trafficking doesn’t just take place somewhere else. It is a Cleveland problem as well.

Interestingly, the horrific act wasn’t recognized nationally as a crime until 2000, with the passage of the Trafficking Victim’s Protection Act. That law recognized two types of trafficking: labor and sex. The former is “using a person for labor or services through force.” Yes, it is a form of slavery. The latter requires “a commercial sex act or sex exchange for money, food, shelter or anything that has commercial value” and “some form of force, fraud or coercion perpetrated by what we call a pimp or trafficker.”

In Ohio, which was the first state in the Union to prohibit slavery, human/sex trafficking wasn’t recognized until 2010. Yes, only nine years ago. And even then, the actual law prohibiting it didn’t go into effect until 2012.

Playwright Christopher Johnson spent eight years researching human trafficking. He met with individuals who were trying to help the victims, as well as agency and governmental representatives who were working to end the practice and support those who were brutalized. His purpose was to gain the necessary information to write the compassionate, moving, and startling Live Bodies for Sale, a real local story of sex trafficking.

“The play is based on in-depth interviews with women forced into prostitution, exploited and rescued” and is based on his book, Shattering Silences: Strategies to Prevent Sexual Assault, Heal Survivors, and Bring Assailants to Justice. Johnson’s script is now in its world performance premiere at Playwrights Local in Waterloo Arts.

The stories, as told and acted out, are compelling and upsetting. They speak to the very worst in people, as well as the best in those who try and help, and those who survive. Sometimes encouraging, all the stories have an undercurrent of horror.

The cast, under the direction of Terrence Spivey, is excellent. They inhabit their roles so completely that the presentation does not appear to be a theatrical work, but a demonstration by the actual victims, perpetuators, and those who try to help those who have been abused.

Rocky Encalada, Arien Hodges, Stephen D. Hood, Hayley Johnson, Rochelle Jones, Joseph Milan, Juliette Regnier and Emily Taylor revealed, in a talk-back following the opening night sold out presentation, that, besides doing extensive research, they each met individually with the person they portrayed in order to have firsthand knowledge of their lives and what led to their being dragged into the trafficking or becoming an advocate for the victims.

The setting, lighting, costumes and sound effects are minimal. The words and actions are front and center. This is an involving experience that rips at the heart and bombards the mind with questions, as well as feelings of helplessness and rage.

One positive part of the revelations is gaining knowledge about the Cleveland-area Renee Jones Empowerment Center, a nurturing safe place where those who have survived being trafficked or sexually assaulted can rebuild their lives. (A portion of the proceeds from this production will benefit the Renee Jones Empowerment Center.)

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: Live Bodies for Sale is a powerful and compelling exposition that grabs and holds attention, not only because of the stories told, but also because of the well-conceived performances. This is an absolutely must-see experience which shows the power of theater to teach and persuade. (Side note: Talkbacks are held after performances.)

Live Bodies for Sale runs through Sun 12/15 at Creative Space at Waterloo Arts. For tickets go to playwrightslocal or call 216-302-8856.

[Written by Roy Berko, member: Cleveland Critics Circle, American Theatre Critics Association, International Association of Theatre Critics]

Cleveland, OH 44110





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