Conceived and Directed by Kristin Heckler
Written in Collaboration with Jacob Sebastian Phillips, Sarah Raimondi, and Pauline Sherrow
Produced by Recognize Theatre
Off Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 2.24.19
MCS Theatre, 357 West 36th Street
by Ken Kaissar on 2.12.19
Sarah Raimondi in Exposed. Photo by Kyle Mencel.
BOTTOM LINE: A cautionary tale about the damaging effects of a life in porn.
Many feminist writers of the '70s and ‘80s, including Catherine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin, were openly hostile towards pornography and viewed it as a tool to oppress women. But attitudes have eased over the last several decades and the idea that there is nothing wrong with pornography—providing that a woman chooses to participate of her own free will—is a common one in contemporary feminist circles. But as Exposed—conceived by Kristin Heckler and written in collaboration with the cast (Jacob Sebastian Phillips, Sarah Raimondi, and Pauline Sherrow)—demonstrates, the issue is fraught with degrading assumptions and judgments that are unavoidably imposed on the women who choose to participate.
Lauren (Sarah Raimondi) has always had a fascination with porn. But when she learns that her father (Sebastian Phillips) has lost his job and can no longer pay her college tuition, she decides to put her affinity to use. Before long, the internet is inundated with her performances, which means her life becomes a living hell, with everyone around her snickering and assuming that she’s always game for a blowjob and a cheap lay. Lauren quickly learns that her peers take her decision to participate in porn as automatic permission to dehumanize her.
Kristen Heckler’s staging is artful and tasteful, which is impressive considering it includes representations of a multitude of sexual acts and positions. The sex is stylized with two actors parallel to one another—they don't touch, but move in perfect sync, like salsa dancers. The result is aesthetically pleasing and more sexually alluring than porn could ever be. However, the artful and aesthetic depiction of sex may be something of a liability here, given that Exposed intends to be a cautionary tale about the havoc that porn can wreak on one’s life.
The script is organic and honest, and as performed by this excellent three-person cast, never feels forced. Raimondi’s fascination with erotica is genuine, and her recognition of the damage that her life sustains is heart-wrenching. Phillips perfectly captures a father’s unwavering support for his daughter despite his profound disappointment in her choices. And Pauline Sherrow is hilarious as a judgmental talk-show host with a moralistic superiority complex.
While the play offers a compelling story with a clear trajectory, its structure could use revision. When Lauren reaches an emotional low she has a moment of recognition, yet she continues to participate in porn. She assures us of the emotional and physical destruction that porn brings to her life, and yet she claims she “knows what she’s doing.” While Exposed is an enjoyable enough piece, with much to recommend, I’m confused about what Heckler and the cast want me to take away from this experience.
Ultimately, Exposed doesn’t say anything we don’t already know, and I’m troubled to have left the theatre without a useful thought about what I saw. Here’s what I think it’s saying:
Okay, I’ll try not to judge. But if porn is damaging her life, maybe it’s time for the intervention of a social worker.
(Exposed plays at MCS Theatre, 357 West 36th Street, through February 24, 2019. The running time is 85 minutes with no intermission. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8; Sundays at 7. Tickets are $20 and are available at exposed.bpt.me or or by calling 917-426-2381. For more information visit recognizetheatre.org.)
Exposed is conceived and directed by Kristin Heckler. Written in collaboration with Jacob Sebastian Phillips, Sarah Raimondi, and Pauline Sherrow. Lighting Design by Sara Christopher. Sound Design by Emily Auciello. Stage Manager is Max Pendergast.
The cast is Jacob Sebastian Phillips, Sarah Raimondi, and Pauline Sherrow.