by J.D. Oxblood
Part Time Prostitute
by Lucy Johnson (Starring Rachel Rouge)
March 20, 21, 27, 28, 2012 at 8pm
Anyone interested in biography as performance art, changing one’s career, or confronting societal taboos would be practicing self-sabotage to miss Part Time Prostitute now playing at The Red Room. As you can probably guess by the title, this is also something you wouldn’t want to miss if you’re fascinated by sex work, interested in outlier societies, or would like to spend an hour imagining sex with an attractive woman without actually seeing her naked.
Lucy Johnson—if that is her real name, impossible to tell since there are at least three monikers for her on the promotional postcard and a couple more at the show itself—is a natural performer, a sweet-faced, honey-voiced lady with a disarmingly charming style. This is direct address, the fourth wall never established, and you will spend an hour in her company, an obvious nod to the hour that you might pass with her were you paying for her services, and not just hearing them described.
This is a true story about a young woman in New Zealand, where prostitution has been decriminalized, working in one of nine licensed brothels in Wellington. A natural storyteller—with an obsession for statistics—led her to keep careful and exacting records of her sojourn into the profession, and this show provides demonstrations, wry humor, and a slideshow backdrop—a Spalding Grey-like set-up, only shorter, with lingerie and a lot more dick jokes.
I like Rachel Rouge, and that’s an important selling point for a show about a person who would be largely regarded as a criminal in this country. It helps that she’s a Kiwi—from New Zealand, neighbor to Australia (and don’t ever confuse a Kiwi for an Ozzie), home to fewer people than sheep and all of them seem to be decidedly mellow, friendly, and upbeat, with an accent more musical and soothing than Strine. It goes a long way to allowing women in the audience to laugh and giggle at the story of banging—for money— so many different men in such a short time, to say nothing of instruction in “tranny fucking” (letting the john fuck your lubed thighs).
While the statistics and stories are limited (almost no mention of the other women she worked with), the show spills great embarrassing stories about men—as awful, pathetic and disgusting, and yet, deserving of the lust and affection they’ve paid for. Perhaps our heroine came into the business with a broader heart, but she seems quick to forgive men our foibles, more so than the average conversation one hears over the cubicle wall.
She also offers great recommendations for women, such as always pulling your dress over your head, keeping your body wound tight, rather than pushing anything down towards the floor; tips on getting and keeping a man’s dick hard, and more tried-and-true than anything in Cosmo. She also explains, once and for all, why women fake orgasms: to get a guy to stop what he’s doing.
While I love her diatribe against circumcision, I wonder why her addiction to statistics didn’t cause her to include anything about New York’s thriving brothels and freelancers, however illegal. I wonder if this weekend’s audience will see this show as a quaint “foreign” story, or if they’ll think about the thriving—however illegal—sex industry in Gotham.
It’s been in the news. Craigslist was forced to remove its sex worker listings—despite the fact that the website helped catch the “Craigslist Killer”—under conservative pressures backed by seriously unscientific statistics on the sex trafficking of minors, aided by Twitter-campaigns by well-meaning, undereducated douchebags like Ashton Kutcher. I saw today that Ontario has legalized brothels, while in the Lower 48, Backpage.com, which has taken over as the sex worker’s yellow pages since the Craigslist decision, is under fresh attack.
No one’s arguing the need to keep our nation’s children and other unwilling victims safe, but often overlooked is the fact that the internet, and sites like Backpage, have made willing sex workers far safer than they ever would have been in the pimpzploitation days.
And perhaps because I’ve worked gigs for Big Pharma, making me as much of a whore as any Backpage hooker, I’m particularly swayed by the Viagra argument, which many think should have changed the playing field in political arguments about sex and reproductive freedoms. The argument is not mine (free points to anyone with the time to search out the applicable links), but it goes something like this: Viagra is a drug that helps old men to have sex. Old men don’t usually have sex in order to have children. Therefore, the legality, wide use and social acceptability of Viagra signifies that Americans accept that having sex for pleasure is a right, a defensible freedom. THEREFORE, birth control for women, prostitution, and—dare I?—abortion are all constitutionally valid. BUT OF COURSE, Viagara gives old, white men with money the continued ability to use women as cum dumpsters; birth control gives women freedom, prostitution gives women money and, in some political scandals, power, and… well, you see where I’m going. What’s good for rich, powerful white men is good for the country. And yet, if I get busted visiting a hard-working New York prostitute (which would make even the poor sods I have to share a subway ride home with more relaxed), I can thank my man Eliot Spitzer, who escalated being a john to a Class A misdemeanor—1 year in jail and a $1000 fine—before he stepped down as governor for patronizing prostitutes.
My fascination with prostitution has as much to do with its reputation as the oldest profession, which would mean, naturally, that it was the origin of money. The first skill rated important enough that it could be traded not just for other services, but for something ABSTRACT that can then be traded for OTHER services. This isn’t just a prelude to fiat currency, this is the origin of DISCRETION. If you blow me and I build a fence for you, everyone in town will know the implication. But with the invention of currency, we all get to keep the curtain closed.
Ah, New Zealand. Coz that kind of shit is never going to happen in a country that was founded by people so prude they were kicked out of England.
I DIGRESS, but that’s why we go to the theatre, to stimulate our noggins. All of this was resonating in my head from the opening of this show, as she was folding a stack of clean towels, to her inevitable change into street clothes.
While I’m not a theatre critic, I am a difficult audience member, and yet I found this show quite enjoyable to watch, and found that other spectators found it fascinating quite simply as a glimpse behind the curtain. Since most people know nothing about prostitution other than what they see on TV, this show is an unveiling. Yet I can’t help but imagine what it could be if it continues on the path of these early productions (New Zealand, New York) and evolves into a more fictive form with a more deliberate arc and farther-reaching ambitions. Start with a large clock on the wall, so that we’re more oppressed by the time and can see every time she checks it. Sculpt the piece more deliberately to mirror an hour-long session, with various asides to cover statistics and her favorite anecdotes that illustrate the moment we’re in. Bring the technical aspects into the room with us. Dim the lights. Let her take her clothes off, but keep the artiface of not allowing us to see her naked—dim lighting, some backing soundtrack (a cheap boom box by the side of the bed, natch), and cast the spell over us the way Rouge has cast the spell over so many men. Let us see her at her professional best, and when she slips that dress back on and the lights snap up, let us see her for who she truly is—this moment is a kink into itself for many johns. The most emphatically effective line of the text is from the very end of the show: you can’t glamorize or vilify it, it’s just a job.” But it is both vilified and glamorized, by the media, by the practitioners who require the illusion to continue to make a buck, by the johns, by the porn industry, by every primetime drama that features a sex worker as hero, as villain, or as victim. Take us there—give us the evils of the job and give us the glory of the job—then pull back the curtain and let us see that, after all, it is just a job. The first job, perhaps, but still, just a job.
Pay for it,
Photos by Melanie Dixson & Chris McCarthy.Do not use without permission.