Published June 18, 2018 | By Adrienne Proctor
Oklahoma Contemporary has teamed up with Fresh Paint Performance Lab to present the latest installment in their “Women in Performance” series. Honey: An Immersive Performance is a new work written, starring, directed and choreographed by female artists.
Immersion Theatre gives the audience a chance to really be in the story. For Honey, doors open five minutes before the show’s official start time, but the performance begins as soon as you walk in. The beautiful waitresses who greet you are also your supporting cast, and they escort you to your personal tables like they would in a VIP section at the sexiest club in town. Promises of being served shortly are purred in your ear, and flirtations and winks are passed as you take your seat. Already, you’re engulfed in a seductive world. Your eyes are directed to the stage down front, and you notice a housekeeper quietly fixing the bed in a nondescript hotel room. It’s painfully ordinary, recognizable for its existence on every highway in America. Then the housekeeper leaves as Melissa enters and starts a pot of coffee.
As her coffee brews, she dresses for her evening of work. It’s immediately apparent what Melissa’s job is. This is a hotel room currently occupied by a sex worker, and now the audience is on her clock. Korri Werner portrays Melissa, though she’s known by her clients as Ivy. Melissa is playing a role. Throughout the night, she must switch back and forth from Ivy to Melissa, so often it’s hard to tell when she’s being herself and when she’s being her persona.
Werner shows us a Melissa/Ivy who is down to earth, empathetic and relatable. She’s just a normal person. She gets bored at work, she complains about her job, and she is living the common American life. However, she’s a prostitute in a hotel room. That remains the only difference between her and any other employee on a business trip. Werner presents a character who could be, and is, any one of us.
Melissa endures the night as she waits for client after client. She’s also visited by a massage therapist, fellow coworkers of her specialty, and several hotel employees who are more than a little suspicious of the activities inside the room. The simple way that each character interacts with Melissa is a commentary all on its own. The masseuse, played by Morgaine Gooding-Silverwood, describes her job and career moves in a way that makes what she does sound nearly identical to Melissa’s profession. This could essentially be considered a way “out” of the treacherous line of work Melissa is in. Several of these would-be opportunities are presented to Melissa throughout the show. Even the housekeeper, expertly portrayed by Julie Watts, provides a similar level of labor-intensive work that isn’t that far off from Melissa’s world. What Melissa does with these presumed opportunities is a revelation at the end of the performance.
While the massage scene is an important one for the overall theme of the show, it is overly long. Receiving a massage is relaxing, but watching someone get a massage can verge on boring. Werner seems preoccupied with her towel staying on, which is understandable considering she’s dressed in next to nothing underneath. The clunky massage table presents an awkward prop to work around, and neither Werner nor Gooding-Silverwood seem very comfortable in this scene.
Similar commentary can be said about the scene with the Video Vigilante, portrayed by David Burkhart. The Vigilante is an unnamed local who takes it upon himself to film prostitutes with johns, to expose them both, and with neither’s consent. Using a real news story, based on a real person, is an extremely bold move for the writers of Honey. It sends a succinct message. The Vigilante’s dialogue is portrayed gorgeously by a female voice. It’s a lovely element, but this is another scene that is too long. It feels longer considering it is carried out in absolute darkness, besides the single light used by the Vigilante’s camera. After some work and tailoring, this scene will become the powerful moment it promises to be.
In today’s social networking climate, hardly anything is left to the imagination. However, the position of sex worker remains one of the few aspects of modern society that is still shrouded in mystery. It’s consistently plagued by bias, judgement and controversy. Honey is a step away from that tired narrative. The characters presented are real, funny, and believable. The choreography by Chelcy Harrell and Kaylene Snarsky is divine. Every movement has a specific message, thanks to brilliant direction by Katherine Wilkinson.
The topic of sex work is not a light or a small conversation, and all the aspects brought up here take more time than a one act show can possibly allow. Honey does have the potential, and the nerve, to convey every important message brought up, with a bit more work. A talkback after the show may be beneficial for the creative team to receive feedback from their audience. It would also give audiences a chance to ask questions and receive clarification, as several of the more subtle points aren’t clear. Fresh Paint Performance Lab specializes in developing works, and this show is a wonderful example of the caliber of work they’re creating.