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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
The bottom line here is that since the professor is Sarah Jones, you'll be watching one of that genre's most skilled interpreters, deliver more than a dozen character stretches with amazing linguistic authenticity. Even without the coat rack of costume props she used in her 2006 award-winning Bridge and Tunnel to do her chameleon-like character shifts.
Jones is a remarkable performer and sharp observer. And she's come up with an amusing futuristic spin on the sex industry's growth and reach into themes of gender dynamics, personal identify and feminism, commercial se industry. That said, however, her characters do slip into stereotypical territory, and the piece, even at just 85 minutes, feels overly long. One way to avoid that problem might be to shorten or delete the Professor's own problems with her job securing credentials now included as a narrative framing device.
Ms. Jones is a meticulous researcher. she's gathered enough material to create characters from all walks of life and from all over the world to fully explore her story of how the commercial sex industry's ripple effect will be both positive (for female empowerment and sexism ripe to be treated with therapy) and scary (merging recreational entertainment and sex for sale).
The audience brought into Professor Campbell's circa 2060 classroom for a session during which students will be privvy to new technologically stored modules of people's varied views on commercial sex work over the decades. These cloud based memories include an elderly homemaker once identified as a "middle class homemaker" . . . a "sex work studies" major . . . an escort . . . an Irish nun's migration into prostitution. . . a groom-to-be at a strip club for his bachelor party. . . Amanda, a hostess-cum-dominatrix who works for Sergei Ledinov, a Russian hotelier nicknamed "raunchrepreneur" who's just opened a series of boutique hotels that provide not just rooms, but brothel services.
Given the scope and seriousness of her subject and its first airing at one of her popular TED presentations prior to the current presidential campaign, that Raunchrepreneur nickname for her Russian ogliarch wasn't really meant to expand Sell|Buy|Date into another subtext: A parody of a headline dominating American hotelier's current presidential aspirations — an ambition that has resulted in an appalling more insult than issue focused campaign. Inundated as we all are with the personality focused Trump-Clinton media coverage, Sergei Ledinov can't avoid making this feel like a subtext in Ms. Jones's play. Since humor has always been a prime ingredient of her presentations, this may enhance this piece's relevancy for some theater goers. But it may well also have others sigh "enough already."
My quibbles notwithstanding, director Carolyn Cantor has staged this multi-voiced monologue fluidly. It's vividly enhanced by Dane Laffrey spare set, Eric Southern's lighting and Bray Poor's sound punctuation between persona switches. And of course it's nice to see this thoughtful, immensely smart and dedicated American citizen-playwright-performer once again giving theater goers an opportunity to hear the voices of people they don't usually meet. Like Anna Deveare Smith, who's also currently presenting a new one-woman, social issue piece at Off-Broadway's Second Stage, these women do validate the effectiveness of the one-person play.
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Written and performed by SarahJones
Directed by Carolyn Cantor
(Scenic and costume design: Dane Laffrey
Lighting: Eric Southern
Sound: Bray Poor
Dramaturg: Antonia Grilikhes-Lasky
Stage Manager: Libby Unsworth
Running Time: 85 minutes
The Studio at Stage II 131 West 55th Street
From 9/27/16; opening 10/18/16; closing 11/20/16
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 10/14 press preview
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