The Hudson Exploited Theater Company’s current production of Jane Ho is a psychologically penetrating play about the world of a prostitute.Written by John Pallotta and directed by award-winning Arian Blanco, this dark urban drama maintains artistic integrity throughout as it explores the cutting-edge polyvocal format using a variety of verbal strategies. But like all good art, the play takes the brave leap into the universal arena. In the tradition of Guy de Maupassant, Pallotta guides us through the provocative underworld of Jane Ho where we acknowledge the glamour of a lucrative and sexy lifestyle, but also sense the palpable loneliness, the yearning for the simpler things in life.
We see the irony right from the start as Jane denies her status but gives us the sale pitch: "I’m not a prostitute, but I can give you what you want."
Her chosen profession appeals to our prurient curiosity. We seek the fantasy, and we get it. We buy into her confidence, her justification that "idealism is only a rich woman’s luxury."
Jane mourns the loss of her innocence and loathes the city, but these sentiments only seem to have a tangential bearing on her everyday life as a prostitute. Nonetheless, they foreshadow the truth we realize later: Jane has after all internalized that idyllic scene from her childhood she had literally forsaken. Metaphorically, she harbors a rich inner landscape that allows us to see her as human and full of faults, but truly beautiful.
The dramatic style supports Jane’s underlying pathos. Jane fragments herself into the various characters of the play, showing us just how emotionally complex she is. Jane is, alternately, the male hoe, the ethnic prostitute, the Southern belle. She reduces herself to language, but through language she will become whole. She will bare her soul, but not until we are ready to listen. What makes the drama so effective is the series of fluid, overlapping stream-of-conscious monologues that give us the impression of a dreamlike fantasy world.
Blanco sets the stage for a riveting climax by focusing on the power of the mirror. In Act One, the characters casually soliloquize before the mirror as they primp themselves. By Act Two, their mirrored images respond, unmasking the characters to reveal the cynicism, anger and melancholy beneath – and especially, the fear of living without love.
"I am what I am," Jane said. "Because I needed to be loved," only to realize her profession left her with a greater emotional void. But Jane does take control. Her wish for herself may be painfully simple: "…to fall asleep and just dream," and yet, as she takes an honest look within, she transforms, ready to contribute to the larger world: "I will just smile and be friendly" or "move an ant to a better location" to protect it.
Once we see past the allure, past the disgrace of the institution, two sides of the same coin, Jane Ho becomes a truly provocative play. As a journey of the self, we begin to find points of contact, and yes, even empathy.
"Take away the prostitution," Pallotta claims, "and this play is really about any one of us." But the play is about prostitution. If this is our launch pad, our journey into ourselves is frightening. This magnified sense of emptiness works because we know our own void: the solutions are poignant because we know how much we grope for meaning. That is precisely what makes this play so gripping.
Jane Ho will be performed Dec. 11-13 at the Park Theater at 560 32n d St. in Union City. All showtimes are 8 p.m. and tickets are $15. For information call (877) 571-3797. The cast includes: Mikaela Kafka, Stephanie Angelil, Lauren Devlin, A.B. Lugo and John Dusol. q