Predators on the prowl

d'Lëtzebuerger Land vom 04.01.2019

Watching Mis(s)treated just before Christmas did have the feel of a fringe festival about it. “Wacky” is the adjective that came to mind. Three armchairs, a corner bar and four young actors on stage: there was Isis, the butler who is named after a dead dog, and there were his employers A, B and C, who are female pimps. After all, this is the age of job equality!

Purple Soup Crew are a new company whose enthusiasm was palpable: Anne Radunsky is Russian-American, Lis Dostert is from Luxembourg, while Geoffrey Lemonnier and Sixtine Païtard are French. Lis Dostert, who also directs the production, has written a play about prostitution and human trafficking. It raises all sorts of issues without ever becoming moralising. The 50-minute show turns out to be a combination of slapstick humour and over-the-top acting, a cocktail of tongue-in-cheek jokes, with the odd statistics thrown in. Rhythm and speed are key. The fourth wall is broken again and again, especially by the butler, who begs the audience for sympathy, while taking his employers’ insults in his stride. He has long seen through the power games the latter play, yet he feels trapped as he needs the job….

Meanwhile, the three women triumphantly strut the stage, priding themselves on making front-page news as the owners of the town’s most successful “business”. The money keeps rolling in. Actually, their sex trade is so lucrative that 100-dollar bills start raining on the audience at one point! They are constantly expanding their business, but when they become suspicious of Concepción, the star “employee” who does not turn up for a meeting, tempers flare and the situation escalates.

A turns on B, who turns on C. What looked like a solid partnership based on greed is but a brittle alliance spiked with distrust and resentment, after all. Once the veneer crumbles, we discover three very different personalities – a cool customer, a naïve, slow mind and a rather erratic hothead. The game of Russian roulette they move towards has the expected outcome, but even then, another dimension is added when we hear the three women evoke key childhood memories.

Ultimately, Mis(s)treated shows that weapons, drugs and organ harvesting are part of the same underworld, as are the many prostitution networks that run parallel to the lives most of us lead. People have become as mobile and invisible as the secretive money that crosses borders thanks to globalised finance.

Sexual exploitation may happen outside our field of vision, but we all know that it is definitely there behind screens of debts, threats and fear. Stripped of decent living standards and of security, the women (and men) plying their trade become the silent victims of a modern slave trade controlled by trafficking rings. Yet all this bleakness takes on colour in Lis Dostert’s black comedy, which is fresh and full of energy. It shows how ducking and diving becomes a means of survival in a world human rights pass by. My only quibble is with the very last scene, which feels a bit too much like a surreal muddle. Are we still in the present or back in the past? – But then perhaps the confusion it creates is intentional.

In any case, if you missed this more than promising debut play, you should look out for further treats coming from Purple Soup Crew!

Mis(s)treated was at Théâtre du Centaure from December 19 to 22, 2018

Janine Goedert
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