Playwrights Local’s ‘Live Bodies For Sale’ is a jarring look at societies’ dark side


Let’s get this straight right off the bat. You will not enjoy the Playwright’s Local production of Christopher Johnson’s Live Bodies For Sale. It is simply not that type of play. What you will find is a captivating expose of a world and local dilemma known as human trafficking. Rough estimates place the number of victims and survivors at an incredible 40.3 million persons world wide. For those who naively believe that it could never happen in Cleveland or in the surrounding areas you would be wrong.

The show begins with a human montage of the first reading of the Constitution of the United States where in order to keep the young country together and appease the Southern plantation owners slavery was allowed. It took Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation to outlaw the act in 1863 but the crime of human trafficking was not considered a criminal act until the year 2000 when the Trafficking Victim’s Protection Act was passed.

This law identified two kinds of trafficking: labor or “the using of a person for labor or services through the use of force” and sex which stated “a commercial sex act or sex exchange for money, food, shelter or anything that has commercial value that is perpetrated by what is commonly known as a pimp or trafficker”...or in a word...slavery.

Even with this law, sex trafficking was not recognized as criminal until 2010 with its actual prohibition coming about in 2012.

The bulk of the show is a series of vignettes taken right from the mouths of the victims along with eyewitness accounts from agency and government personnel who are fighting day and night to combat these illegal and immoral practices.

Taken from playwright Christopher Johnston’s book “Shattering Silences: Strategies to Prevent Sexual Assault, Heal Survivors, and Bring Assailants to Justice” which took eight years to compile is a brutally honest look at local stories of sex trafficking.

It is not theater for the weak of heart. There is a lot of screaming, crying and simulated heroin use as actors portray women who were in most cases abused as children and then fell into the trap of prostitution and hard drug use that the traffickers use to keep them under control. The locked doors and chains have been replaced by the needle.

To add balance to the show, the stories are also told of women who were able to break free from the maelstrom of continuous sex and drug use and be rescued from their fate. Some make it through, others do not. You can feel the horror and hopelessness in some of the portrayals.

In two fast moving hours you will witness the absolute nadir of humanity along with the most redeeming of qualities that humans are capable of. The cast is made up of: Rocky Encalada as Lauren Byrd, Arien Hodges as Tammy Herndricks, Stephen D. Hood as Detective John Morgan, Hayley Johnson as Nicole Griffin, Rochelle Jones as Shanice Day, Joseph Milan as Prosecutor Rick Bell, Juliette Regnier as Martina Frantino and Emily Taylor as Emily Mahoney. Marcus Dana does a great job with what little lighting sets there are.

The depiction is so well directed by Terrence Spivey one has problems realizing where reality leaves off from portrayal as you feel real emotions for and against the victims, traffickers, law enforcement and rescuers. A tremendous amount of research was done by the actors who met with the actual victims in order to be able to inhabit the role. The show is done on a bare single riser stage with only chairs and a small table so what you see is the pure skill of the actors to propel the various stories.

A goodly part of the show takes place in the Renee Jones Empowerment Center that is a haven for the survivors of trafficking and sexual abuse. The place actually exists in Cleveland and allows victims a chance to get a fresh start on reclaiming successful lives with counseling and training given freely. A portion of the play’s proceeds have been earmarked for the Center.

You will not enjoy Live Bodies For Sale but this is a show that should be seen by parents and teens alike. Sometimes theater should be less about entertainment and stronger on teaching vastly needed life lessons. This is one of those shows. Have the courage to see this with your son and daughter.

Live Bodies For Sale runs through December 15, 2019 at Creative Space at Waterloo Arts, 397 E. 156th Street, Cleveland, Ohio. Parking is available in the lot next to the building. For tickets and information visit info@playwrightslocal.org or call (216) 302-8856.

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Who is Mark Horning?

Over the course of my life I have worked a variety of jobs including newspapers, retail camera sales and photography. Eight years ago I embarked on yet another career as writer. This included articles concerning sports and cultural events in Cleveland, Ohio as well reviews of the many theatrical productions around town. These days are spent photographing professional dance groups, theater companies and various galas and festivals as well as attending various stage performances and posting reviews about them.  

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