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Hickey adds depth to 'Etta Jenks'


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POSTED: Saturday, December 05, 2009

Nudity can be as essential to the story line of a play or musical as it is in “;M. Butterfly”; and “;Hair,”; or it can be as gratuitous as it is in “;Bent.”; It can also be something that a director uses in ways that the playwright never anticipated, as when Taurie Kinoshita added a nude woman and two other nonspeaking characters to her 2002 University of Hawaii Earle Ernst Lab Theatre production of “;Crave,”; written by Sarah Kane for a cast of four.

Director Rikki Jo Hickey uses it in yet another context in her Lab Theatre production of “;Etta Jenks,”; when Brook Costello (Kitty) and Noriko Katayama (Sheri Shineer) create a moment of realism, honesty and purity in a story about people who are neither pure nor honest. It is a pivotal moment in one of the year's best dramatic productions.

Playwright Marlane Gomard Meyer wrote “;Etta Jenks”; in 1988 as a formulaic tale of exploitation of women in the porn industry. Hickey adds substance by making the story more about the experiences and decisions—those made and those not made—by characters of both sexes.

 

The plot initially follows the traditional arc. Etta (Lindsay Timmington McGahan) arrives in Los Angeles certain that Hollywood will discover her in a month or two. It doesn't happen. She runs out of money. Finally, she follows up on an invitation to “;make a few movies”; of a different type.

               

     

 

'ETTA JENKS'

        » Where: Earle Ernst Lab Theatre, UH-Manoa
       

» When: 8 p.m. today and 2 p.m. Sunday

       

» Cost: $15 general; $14 seniors, military and UH faculty and staff; $12 student; $5 UHM students with valid student ID. All service prices included in ticket price. Tickets are at www.etickethawaii.com and Kennedy Theatre box office.

       

The producer (Kyle David) asks her to remove her clothes. McGahan, who never appears nude in the production, reveals her bra. The lights go dark.

When the lights come up, Etta is a hardened jaded pro who admonishes two of her female colleagues not to complain about the risks and inconveniences of their profession.

THE MEN ARE mostly motormouths who tell lies, spin fantasies and speak harsh truths with equal conviction. They include the sleazy, self-righteous producer and his senior partner (Christopher McGahan), a drug-addicted low-level go-fer (David Teraoka) and a comically articulate hit man (Dominar Scott Everett Allen III) who comes into the picture after one of Etta's friends disappears in Mexico.

Eventually, past her prime as a porn star and tired of working as a dance hall hostess and prostitute, Etta accepts an offer to become a “;talent co-ordinator”; bringing new women into the business. One prospect, who speaks with chilling contempt of men and “;their sick needs,”; seems ready-made for the profession and already beyond redemption.

Lindsay McGahan is a steady presence, perfectly cast as the hard and jaded porn industry executrix in Act 2.

David and Christopher McGahan are simultaneously appalling and fascinating as the porn producers. Katayama is enjoyable as the most interesting and well-written of the secondary female characters, and Allen adds welcome bits of dark comedy to the final scenes.

Hickey and her set designers, Andrew Varella and Brittany Paller, separate the audience and performers with walls of wire mesh—which group is truly in confinement is a matter of perspective. Lighting designer Kazumi Hatsumura adds irony to one scene by bathing David in a pillar of light just as he makes an especially outrageous statement.