Dirty Money: The Job of Sex
Local Arts Reviews
Reviewed by Ada Calhoun, Fri., Oct. 22, 1999
Dirty Money: The Job of Sex
through November 6
We have seen the future of prostitution and the future is ... not all that exciting. Dirty Money, written by Lisa Peschel and directed by John Steven Rodriguez, is set in the middle of the 21st century, alternately in Europe, where prostitution is a safe and largely respected career choice (it even has its own government agency), and in America, where prostitution remains unsafe and illegal. European sex service provider Heike Mietner crusades, leather-clad, against the schoolmarmish American academic Jane Beck (Meredith Baker), who tows the age-old "prostitution degrades women" line. Heike, played by a hot, if mysteriously unsexy, Elissa Michelle Linares, is a prostitute who loves her work: "Everyone has something they love enough to build their life around -- for me, it's sex."
Heike embodies a sunny vision of legalized prostitution. At work is a simple dynamic: the good, strong, independent whore vs. the evil, condescending, academic ice queen. As if Beck's bun and clipboard didn't indemnify her enough, she also runs a career retraining center named (though we are never told why) after Long Island serial killer Joel Rifkin. Heike's team includes Eva, played by Robin Benson, who is charming and steals every scene she's in, and eventually some American compatriots, two of whom are played to the hard-talking nines by Angie Ray and Heather Barfield.
Though much of the acting is wooden (and not in the expected whorehouse fashion), the stilted dialogue actually gives the show a welcome Valley of the Dolls/Showgirls camp appeal, an appeal enhanced by Kari Perkins' skimpy leather outfits and Ann Marie Gordon's animal print decor.
Thinking about the play at all, however, will sink you. For while there seems to be a message somewhere (maybe it's something like "Yea, European liberalism!"), overall Dirty Money's politics remain cloudy at best. Despite the rhetoric, it's hard to tell if Heike, who, a flashback tells us, turned down a career in politics to pursue the sex trade, is as empowered as she claims to be. At one point, she has to cajole and manipulate her client/former boyfriend Rudi (played by Dan Waller, whose penis we get to see) to take her to a council meeting. This scene evokes more of the "Honey, can I have some money to go buy a hat?" stereotype than that of the powerful and independent activist.
But what is perhaps most interesting about this play is that, despite the fact that everyone runs around in leather and lace, talking about threesomes, the play registers a negative 10 on the eroticism scale. This may be because all the sex scenes fade demurely out and the one nude body appears as a kind of afterthought, but a more likely desexifier is that, as portrayed here, paid sex isn't dirty. And the dirtiness factor, the illicitness of the act, is perhaps what makes prostitution so controversial and so appealing in the first place. When the sex trade is just another government agency, it gets safe but loses everything that makes it horrifying and fascinating -- and worthwhile subject material.