An ugly truth


<p><b>Some scenes, even if re-enacted onstage, are just plain hard to watch.</b></p>

Some scenes, even if re-enacted onstage, are just plain hard to watch.

Photo by Hector Navejas

Enslaved, 8 p.m. Friday; 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sunday; 8 p.m. on Saturday, September 6; Sunday, August 31; Sunday, September 7; $13-$15. El Teatro Espejo at the California Stage, 2509 R Street; Through September 7.

Rated 4.0

El Teatro Espejo takes a seriously dark turn with Enslaved, a drama by Rubén Amavizca-Murúa about human trafficking for sex work. Like Amavizca-Murúa’s The Women of Juárez, Enslaved uses the story of one young woman and her desperate mother to illustrate a particular aspect of human trafficking.

The play opens with a shocking, noisy, confusing scene in which a parade of men move through the door of a brothel, pay a menacing pimp, are guided by a madam to women in curtained cubicles and exit in a near-ballet fashion. Meanwhile, the women, crying and frightened, are attended by the Singer (David Castillo), a white-clad masked figure who is both comforting and foreboding.

The play then turns to the narrative of one of the women, Andrea (Yesenia Lopez), a lovely but naive 18-year-old, living with a protective mother (Gladys Imperio-Acosta) in a small town in Sinaloa where she is wooed by the slimy Mexican-American Victor (Ruben Oriol-Rivera, who also plays a detective). Against her mother’s wishes, Andrea “elopes” with Victor, only to be drugged and turned over to the violent pimp Emilio and his manipulative madam, Rocio.

While the sexual violence and a forced abortion occur offstage, there is still plenty of violence. This is a raw, sharp-edged accounting of how sex trafficking works, and is based on an actual case from the Los Angeles area. To this forensic approach, playwright Amavizca-Murúa and director Manuel Jose Pickett have added some near-mythic tropes, such as the recurring Singer and the use of a tree that drops its sparkling petals during the course of the action. The set, designed by Neils Larson, takes advantage of the industrial skeleton at California Stage and is perfect for this production: spare and flexible, the curtains on the women’s “cribs” functioning as backdrop for other scenes.

Enslaved is a tragedy. It is also intended to function as a sort of “living newspaper,” informing us of the ugly realities of human trafficking for sex work, and making clear that it is not a new phenomenon. Be aware that, with graphic descriptions of sexual violence, this play is not suitable for more sensitive audience members and children. Representatives from WEAVE and My Sister’s House are in attendance, with information about assistance for women and children in violent situations.