“Monger: The Awakening of J.B. Benton” review – Her Story Theater Illuminates Human Trafficking

Jamise Wright as grieving and avenging mother Ruth Edwards in Her Story Theater's "Monger: The Awakening of J.B. Benton" at The Greenhouse Theater, Chicago

 

monger

combining form

suffix: -monger

denoting a dealer or trader in a specified commodity.

“fishmonger”

a person who promotes a specified activity, situation, or feeling, especially one that is undesirable or discreditable.

“rumormonger”

 

Monger: The Awakening of J.B. Benton, is currently in production by Her Story Theater at Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, through September 30th, 2018. Written by Mary Bonnett, Artistic Director of Her Story, in spare, clean, breathless prose, it’s tautly directed by John Mossman, with similarly free-of-frills acting. Featuring:

Ira Amyx as J.B. Benton, a cynical, world-weary lawyer in a portrayal that some members of the audience found to be that of “a regular guy” and that this reviewer found sinister and vicious- he is an avid consumer of underage sex, betraying husband, and awful father;

Joshua Zambrano as J.B’s 16 year old son, Eddie, whom we meet as he’s being “grounded” for almost killing a fellow student who has bullied and tormented him; he knows about his dad’s proclivities, and his paternal loathing and self hatred are in-your-face palpable; and

Jamise Wright as Ruth Edwards, whose daughter has been found dead in a Markham garage on Christmas, the victim of pandering, pimping, and unholy lust; her despairing anger in an incandescent portrayal wreaks a fine vengeance.

Ira Amyx as father, lawyer, and sexual predator J.B. Benton in “Monger”

Monger is a 3-person play, the 4th in Bonnett’s series, Chicago Trafficking Cycle, about human trafficking. The characters missing from the visual field of action play every bit as important a role as the ones we see. Based on a real-life murder, with chilling projections by Parker Larngvardt that are derived intact both from Web sites offering underage young women for sex as well as from a predatory self-congratulatory “sharing” site, this is a performance that throws the sick notions and behaviors of “toxic manhood” into stark relief.

It also sheds a strong light on wives/mothers who are blind and deaf to what their husbands and children are doing. Nobody can or should escape responsibility for the sale and procurement of children. In a society where a significant number of young girls have babies seemingly as soon as they reach menarche, and an equally significant number of legal age become sex-workers while calling themselves dancers, the girls aged 10 and up who are the victims of human sex trafficking have remained largely invisible.

The set is simple and efficient, an attorney’s home office in Chicago opposite an interview room in a Chicagoland police department; the costumes likewise comfortable and realistic; thanks to set and costume design by playwright Mary Bonnett and stage manager Rafael Zhang. The lighting is clear and effective, thanks to lighting and sound design by Blake Cordell.  Larngvardt’s device of having Eddie respond to his father’s yells with sarcasm and profanity via projected retorts writ large on his dad’s office walls is brilliant and provides leavening humor. The music Eddie plays too loud is startling, serving as a conscience-check; it shocks the audience into realizing that the business of J.B. Benton’s life is indeed being seen and judged; kudos to Christopher Persson for music design.

The play’s action is mesmerizing; at a tightly crafted 71 minutes, the stunning delivery of the actors coupled with the sheer pathos and relentless sadism of the factually based story hits many nerves at once; anger, disbelief, compassion, fear, and a desire to help. When J.B. Benton tells his son, “If you’re not a joke, you’re a pussy and a loser”, he is repeating generationally inculcated ideas about sex roles from which we must free all men, women and children.

Joshua Zambrano as bullied son and victim of “toxic masculinity” Eddie Benton in “Monger”

To that end, after the performance, a representative of “Traffick Free”, a 10-year-old faith-motivated organization with a sheltered emergency and overnight drop-in-center, spoke to the audience about the facts of human trafficking. Traffick Free provides the greater Chicago metropolitan area with tools and sustainable programs to combat this reprehensible crime. Traffick Free works with law enforcement and various task forces to educate and provide direct aid to those in need. It is sobering to realize that in the State of California, schools provide information to students about recognizing the signs/behaviors of human trafficking in fellow students; in Chicago, there is not yet such an initiative. Like J.B. Benton, we all need to come to an awakening.

 

For information about the socially-responsible productions of Her Story Theater and tickets to Monger, go to greenhousetheater website or herstorytheater website

For information about Traffick Free,  or to volunteer, go to [email protected] website

For referrals to Traffick Free’s drop-in center, go to [email protected] website

 

All photos by Michael Brosilow

 

 

 

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