Over the years, I have found Chicago Dramatists, the Playwrights Theatre, a venue that brings us many young writers with some extraordinary works. Their current production, “Bordello” written by resident playwright Aline Lathrop, now in its World Premiere, is one of their “not quite ready yet” plays. The concept of the story, an inside look at seven women whose lives are spent working in a small Nevada town, where prostitution is legal, is an idea that has been done before, but perhaps with less insight into their personal lives and why they are where they are today. The story looks at how sex and violence are connected and as the girls communicate we learn about why each one has chosen this path in their lives. While it is meant to shine a light on these working girls, s to speak, during this two hours, I didn’t feel that we got to all the “roots” of their being there. We learn a little about each, some of their dreams, but as directed by Meghan Beals McCarthy, i did not get the sense that this play was complete, more like a work still in progress.
The set is the kitchen/green room in the Brothel, a kind of seedy looking room where the girls spend a great deal of time between “clients” talking with each other. This is a high priced Bordello, and the set ( designed by Marianna Czaszar) doesn’t make you feel that this is a very “classy” operation. Christine Pascual’s costumes, mostly underwear and lingerie are somewhat fitting to the types of ladies, but in many cases, did not have the feeling of an expensive “Bordello” . The individual stories and the 7 actresses who brought them to life were believable but the way they are melded had some confusing parts and the time sequences were very awkward. The play opens with “customer appreciation night” and in act two, it appears to be one year later with some changes, yet we do not truly feel that a year has gone by. This play might have worked better with no intermission and 90 minutes could be enough to tell the stories if the transitions in time are clearer.
The seven ladies, Kyra Morris as Godiva, a married woman who works this job to support her family, Honey ( played by Marguerite Hammersley) is the older of the “girls” who at the end chooses a path that doesn’t sit right with some of the others, Katherine Keberlein plays Jewell, the tall sexy blonde that has done porno films and demands the highest prices from their clients, Michelle ( deftly handled by Ariana Dziedzic) who is mixed about her love-life and what she wants from life, Melissa Canciller as Lotus, the college drop-out who chose this life over facing those she let down, Dana Black as Mandy, a single mother who works to pay for her daughter’s better life. Mandy is in reality a lesbian but does her job for the money. The final cast member, Joanne Dubach plays Kitten, the new girl in the “house” who has been placed there by her boyfriend/pimp and lives in a sort of dream world that one day he will come back, marry her and build her dream home in the mountains. Each of these ladies has secrets and each of them is jealous of the other- who will win the monthly prize for the “top biller”? Who will end up with Andy, the owner of the “Bordello” who we never meet, but hear lots about ?
Lathrop tries to draw us a picture of what takes place not only in the House of ill repute, but in the heads of these ladies. The reasons that they have made the choice to do this work and possibly to open our eyes about an industry that we have read about, seen depicted in movies and other plays, but from the angle of the sex employees. The problem is that the picture is incomplete and the ending left me wanting to know more. As I said, while the story is not as complete as I would like, there are some sterling characters developed by actresses and director that I believe came more form their interpretation than the script. Dana Black’s Mandy and Marguerite Hammersley’sHoney are two of the strongest characters and well played by both. I found these two ladies and their characters what kept the whole show together.
“Bordello” is not for youngsters, due to content and language and a lot of bare skin, but might be good for some college age students- a chance to perhaps see why people end up where they do. The production will continue at Chicago Dramatists, located at 1105 West Chicago Avenue ( at Ogden and Milwaukee Avenues) through March 6th with performances as follows:
Tickets are $32 ( Thursday evenings for students $15) and can be purchased at www.chicagodramatists.org or call 312-633-0630
There is street parking and the Blue Line-Chicago Avenue stop is just accross the street.
For those of you who have been to this intimate theater in the past, you will be amazed at the new lobby- it is beautiful.