Theater review: La Fulana Respetuosa / The Respectful Prostitute

Aguijón Theater’s new production, La Fulana Respetuosa (The Respectful Prostitute in English and La Putain respectueuse in the original French), is an updated and compressed version of the 1946 play by philosopher/writer/etc. Jean Paul-Sartre taking place in the US’s Jim Crow era. Its story revolves around a woman, Lizzie McKay, who on her journey moving from Chicago to the South, gets immediately thrown into a police and politician conspiracy after she is nearly assaulted on the train on the way into town. The play, though over 60 years old and taking place in another part of the country, contains a story still relevant to the lingering legacies and institutions that underserves and accuses sex workers and minorities unfairly in Chicago and elsewhere.

Literally walking into a bad situation in which she has no good options, Lizzie McKay (played by Marcela Muñoz in the version I saw), is forced to choose between telling the truth to save an innocent Black man or speaking against the most powerful family around and the corrupt institutions of white patriarchy that support them. Lizzie McKay works as a prostitute, which means she can get locked up at any moment and has a more compromised bodily autonomy. Though a crime has been committed against her and that she is being asked to lie to accuse an innocent black man of a crime that a privileged, well-connected white man actually committed against her – the lie she is being asked to tell is not to be condemned by a racist morality or government institutions due to who they serve.

Directed by Sándor Menéndez, who also plays the spoiled and terrible to the point of sociopathological character of yet-unnamed Fred, the Aguijón production stays true to the original story and script, but plays around with the format and propels it into modern times. All at this once forced the audience to consider the story’s place in the United States of today and the past and fill in those connections themselves – the connections between the past and present context was perhaps the most interesting and important aspect. However, this did lead to the occasional logical or contextual contradiction.  For instance, in the when the yet-unnamed “John” insults Lizzie McKay by leaving her $10, I had to suspend disbelief when I heard the quantity, but then earlier in the play Lizzie McKay is vacuuming and listening to an iPod. What time period was this really supposed to be? Were these clashes intentional? I asked myself. Those occasional set design-related and costume clashes, while distracting, didn’t derail the themes and flow of the play.

This more fundamental version of the play, only containing four actors and a singer who provided the concert aspect of the “theatrical concert” that this production is, coupled with the small stage area and barebones set design served well to emphasize protagonists and individual performances. In addition to the main story taking place, singer/actress Alba Guerra (who was in Aguijón’s last production, Blowout) provides her wonderful singing talents through old love songs in a most lovely and glamorous form, acting as a Greek chorus-type narrator to the inner turmoil of the protagonist.

La Fulana Respetuosa / The Respectful Prostitute is a classic story that still certainly offers much relevance and meaning in relation to the lingering shreds of white patriarchy that continue to fuel this country – and most countries with a colonial legacy, for that matter, which makes the performance in Spanish that much more enticing. In the words of the producers themselves: “This interpretation brings a fresh perspective to a harrowing period of American history whose legacy continues today. What has improved since 1946 and what has stayed the same? What has gotten worse? In today’s City of Chicago, with its history of race- and gender-based law enforcement violence and its status as the most racially segregated city in the country, these questions are far from hypothetical.”

La Fulana Respetuosa: Concierto Teatral (dir. Sándor Menéndez) will be playing at the Aguijón Theater (2707 N. Laramie) through April 13th. Performed in Spanish with English language supertitles. Click here for tickets or call 773.637.5899.


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