“Crack Whore” takes us into everywoman’s hell

This play vividly enacts many forms of humiliation, abuse, and violence that women in our culture endure. If such trauma has touched you or anyone you love, seeing it portrayed may well be difficult. Take care of yourself.

Crack Whore, Bulimic, Girl Next Door begins lightheartedly enough. Three engaging actors tell the story of an average girl, each playing one of her avatars from the title. Between scenes, they carry jaunty title cards across the stage, recalling the sexually-laced, humorous worlds of burlesque and vaudeville.

Soon, however, clouds appear. Tactless schoolmates, a stern dance teacher, a cruel pep-squad coach, leave wounds deeper than the half-comic shame and awkwardness of first menstruation.

Internalized misogyny enters her body (in a chilling metaphor), corroding her sense of self and sealing her addiction.  By the time one of her selves interrupts a teen necking scene, shouting, “No! Tell it like it happened!” we have left the halls of comedy. Stripped of the privilege of distance, we become her fellow sufferers.

I`ll tell you no more of the story. Screw your courage to the sticking point, and experience it yourself. If you can. Many — perhaps most — of us, having whooped with laughter in early scenes, found ourselves in constant tears (some near throwing up) through the show’s latter half. Some still felt unhinged an hour after.

In Crack Whore, playwright Marnie Olson takes on an enormous challenge: telling it like it happened. Having split her protagonist apart, she wisely holds a linear path through time. Similarly, she shrewdly blends age-old comic tropes and post-modern sensibilities (I mean, a vaudeville number about “boobs and blood”?).

But even with comedy’s softening touch, this is a piece fueled by rage. It cries injustice in a voice first raised in The Trojan Women, and Iphigenia in Aulis; it assaults our comfort with a fierceness that would make Antonin Artaud and Berthold Brecht proud.

In a future incarnation, Crack Whore might benefit from Brecht’s trick of a narrator, to hold the audience’s hand through its harrowing arc. Olson might also, with more than the Fringe’s tight 1-hour limit, unlock the metaphor of the protagonist’s awful, sudden healing.

But as it is, Crack Whore is terribly effective theatre, a cri de coeur no one in our era can ignore — men especially. Director Jennifer Novak Chun, a master cellist, displays a musician’s sense of timing (and misdirection) to manage constantly shifting roles, sometimes in mid-word, and distract us from countless onstage costume changes. Elizabeth Blake, Gloria Galvan, and Michelle Danyn toss the ball back and forth endlessly, making it look easy; and Edward Alvarado handles all the other parts (of whatever gender) with energy and precision. The Olson/Chun team’s music and costume choices are always accurate, often piercingly so. It never ceases to amaze, what passionate artists can do with a shoestring.

I don’t warn people against theatre unless it’s bad — i.e., soulless and shameless. Crack Whore is the opposite of bad. It is theatre as the ancients of every race intended it — soul medicine, powerful and healing. But being strong medicine, it can be bitter. I don’t know a woman (or an LGBTQIA+ person) whom I would not warn about the triggers. And I don’t know a man I would let off the hook. That said, I repeat: See it.
Crack Whore, Bulimic, Girl Next Door, by Marnie Olson, directed by Jennifer Novak Chun.
Presented by Roadkill Productions, at the Ruby Theatre at The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood 90025.

Saturday, June 15 at 8:30 pm,
Thursday, June 20 at 10:30 pm,
Sunday, June 23 at 2:00 pm – ASL Interpreted
Wednesday, June 26 at 6:30 pm

Tickets: <www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/5614>