Play casts light on shadows of human trafficking

By: Gerry Camp, Telegraph correspondent
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What: “She Has a Name”

When: Dates, times vary, through June 22

Where: Rented stage at Victory Life Church, 800 Reading St., Folsom

Tickets: $16 general; $13 senior, SARTA, military; recommended for those 15 and older


Rating: 5 out of 5

I have been an avid theatergoer all my life and have attended every adult play (and most of the children’s plays) at Folsom’s community theaters since early summer of last year, and I can say with absolute sincerity that I have never been more emotionally drained than I was after seeing the riveting opening night performance of the U. S. community theater premier of Andrew Kooman’s “She Has a Name” at FreeFall Stage.

Effectively directed by Emma Eldridge on a nearly bare stage, the play is about the trafficking of children into sexual slavery. Kooman’s play is set in Thailand, but the crime of sexual trafficking takes place in every country. It is in fact, following drug trafficking, the second most lucrative criminal activity in today’s world.

Rather than dealing in an abstract way with the millions of children worldwide who fall victims of this abomination each year, Kooman shows a very specific encounter between two people the crime brings briefly together. Jason is a young Canadian lawyer who has left his wife and daughters in Canada to assist a United Nations legal team attempting to make a case against a single brothel in Bangkok. He tries to win the confidence of many of the prostitutes, but succeeds in connecting with only one, a fifteen-year-old who has been servicing 10 to 15 men a day, mostly visiting businessmen, since she was 9 or 10 years old. Known only as Number 18, she agrees to allow him to take her picture and to answer, for payment, at least some of his questions about her past and her abduction into slavery. She begins to see him as a potential way to gain her freedom. One question she refuses to answer is “What is your real name?”

Although the supporting cast is excellent, the power of this production is delivered by two of the most intense performances I can remember seeing, Chris Quandt’s Jason and Supatchaya “Jazz” Sunpanich’s Number 18. So real were their performances that not once during the 90-minute presentation as the play builds to its shattering conclusion did either actor allow the audience to feel we were watching actors playing parts.

We see Jason not only with Number 18, but communicating via Skype and telephone with his wife, movingly acted by Brianna Flynn. She goes from begging Jason to come home to demanding that he rescue the girl. Arturo Gonzalez is the embodiment of evil as the pimp, for whom Number 18 is not a person but a commodity to sell many times a day. Marybeth Moore is effective as the lead lawyer in the investigation as is Sara Matsui-Colby as Mamma, the brothel’s madam. Mention must also be made of Bonnie Antignani, Jeannette Baisch, and Caitlyn Wardell who, dressed all in white, appear throughout as a chorus of voices, invisible to the characters, who speak the emotions the characters cannot speak.

The play which toured to sold-out audiences across Canada deserves no less a reception here. Who should see this play? Not people seeking a “pleasant evening of theater,” I have to say. But it must be seen by anyone not afraid to be totally moved by witnessing human character at its most raw; by anyone who savors actors unafraid to give performances that draw upon their deepest emotional resources; by anyone who is willing to see theater as a medium able to shine light on one of the most heinous crimes occurring all around us, in Sacramento as much as Bangkok; by anyone not afraid to be shaken by what outstanding actors can give. If you truly love theater, you must see this play. And I promise you, it is a play you will carry with you long after the lights have gone up.