Innocent Flesh at the Zephyr Theater

In a brand new social drama, filled with darkness and humor, Innocent Flesh, a one act play written and directed by NAACP winner Kenyetta Lethridge, exposes the realities of the sexual exploitation, teen prostitution and domestic trafficking of children in America. Innocent Flesh is loosely based on the real stories of four young girls and the hardships they face as underage prostitutes.

“Young American girls are being raped daily for profit in communities we call home. Why? Because there are adults who demand to have sex with our children.”

From the beginning, Innocent Flesh gets the audience right on the “track” with the girls and the “life” of this piece. There is innocence. There is violence. There is brutality. There is hilarity. The one thing it is not however, is visually gruesome. And one more piece of vital information – this is all taking place on your own block, on your street, in your neighborhood, and everywhere you are living. Everywhere. It’s not happening off in a far away land somewhere, where you can keep your delicate hands from getting dirty and fantasize about brownie points for donating money to a cause or the goodness of celebrities, charities and concerts coming to the rescue of unfortunate kidnapped girls being bused through borders or chained in basements of brothels. It is right in front of your face, right on Sunset, Santa Monica, Crenshaw and Venice (and that’s only in LA). Or haven’t you noticed.

Written in a multi-layered, non-linear, style that uses poetry, dance, and a modern take on the classic Greek Chorus, Innocent Flesh very clearly and quite provocatively breaks the forth wall placing us often in the story as other girls on the street getting the “low down” and sometimes as a sort of social worker to whom each spills out her life. It is direct and honest, often funny and more than a little ugly when you get down to the heart of the matter.

Through confessional vignettes, games, and guided flash backs, we experience first-hand how girls of all walks of life can find themselves on the streets. Throughout this play and underlying every bruising, beating, sex act and catastrophe, what these girls really deal with is neglect and psychological abuse, which is essentially what gets them here in the first and last place. And worse, they almost never leave the cycle, never escape.

From their lips to your ears.

The impact is not just the stories but how each girl seems to be unique. But as each opens up, we begin to see just how emotionally vulnerable and alike they really are. Every moment listening to each girl’s particular story has its own special kind of violence, quiet or loud. Surprising, however, and thankfully, was the replacement of total shock value moments, as one would perhaps expect from a piece that deals with this kind of material, with instead, plain sincerity, raw baldness in the language, sheer boldness in the stage direction and absolute innocence. We see them in moments, Double Dutch jump rope, and sounding off out loud, fantasies of the kinds of lives they would like to have, from being famous movies stars and having nice clothes, to then being romanced by glamorous “daddies” who initially fold them in the warmth of their embraces, tapping into each girl’s neediness. Finally we witness, watch and listening to each of them expose herself to cold, hunger, pain and fear as early as age 12, turned out on the street. These girls really are tough as they are in many ways naive.

But who, what, where, how and why they get there is the over-arching theme answered by the girls themselves.

“I want someone to love me”

Ms. Lethridge’s intention with Innocent Flesh is to create a movement – a massive vision that she plans to expand until everyone finally grabs their daughters, nieces, sisters and says, “I’m here for you.” Making the play palpable for audiences and connecting them to these girls was the priority. It was important that the material be relatable. — It is.

Very few tear-jerk moments happen in this production. We are not allowed to be consumed by our own emotions and feelings for what is happening. Lethridge definitely keeps this piece on the less “indulgent” side. The audience really is forced to listen, maybe for the first time, to what these girls have to say. Because it really is all about them. What the audience comes away with here is more of a confrontational eye opener.

The cast features Daphne Gabriel, Clara Gabrielle, Jameelah Nuriddin, and Angelina Prendergast. It was written and directed by Kenyetta Lethridge.

The only moment that felt out of place was the dance choreography by one of the characters which brought an over-the-top feeling to an already brassy story. It didn’t need the extra. Outside of that, all four girls put in outstanding performances for the opening night of this show.

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