‘The Sirens’ deals with women’s issues

Aaron Kinney

Prostitutes are often frowned upon. But they’re also people.

That’s one message of Richard Wesley’s “The Sirens,” which begins its second weekend of showing at 8 p.m. tonight, with following performances at 8 p.m. tomorrow and matinees starting at 3 p.m. Sunday in Oscar Ritchie Hall’s African Community Theatre.

“The Sirens” deals with the lives of three women, two of whom are prostitutes. It focuses on these women’s struggles and the circumstances that led to their situation.

“We want to humanize these women who are children of the night,” said Fran Dorsey, the play’s director and interim chair of the Department of Pan-African Studies. “Not to dehumanize them. We do enough of that.”

The African Community Theatre has done historical plays, comedies and dramas–”everything in terms of dealing with the life of people of color,” Dorsey said.

But they’ve never done anything with prostitution, Dorsey said, which is also a part of the black experience.

Lenora Pace, co-director and choreographer, said of all Wesley’s scripts, “The Sirens” stands out because it speaks to class, race and gender.

“Even though he makes it very specific–because he makes it so specific-–it becomes universal,” Pace said.

“The play is about dreams,” Pace said. “The loss of dreams, the hope of dreams, reminiscing about lost dreams. How do you get a dream back when you’ve lost it?”

Mavis, played by Kent State alumna Nicole Haugabrook, was an optimistic teenager before eventually becoming a prostitute.

“Now she (Mavis) is at a point where she doesn’t feel like she can go any further,” Haugabrook said. “She’s just given up and she’s settling for what she’s in right now.”

Haugabrook said Mavis was a significant character for her to play because it helped her understand sacrifices her own mother made and gave her more respect for her mother as a result.

“It helped me understand what my mother was talking about when I was younger, saying, ‘You never know what I have to go through to raise all of you,’” Haugabrook said.

Pepper, played by sophomore theatre major Aungelique Scott, plays a similar role to Mavis with key differences, said Mayi UmBayemake, a Kent State alumna and the play’s costume designer.

“Pepper is… still hopeful, young, but on the verge of not caring,” UmBayemake said. “As a prostitute, she wants something better.”

Mavis’s daughter, Betty, played by junior theatre major Danea Rhodes, represents the person Mavis used to be, UmBayemake said.

“Betty’s hopeful, she’s a young teenager in love with somebody, believes everything he tells her when he’s really just kind of using her,” UmBayemake said.

Much of the play centers around how Betty interacts with a young man named Bobby, played by Braheem Wahid, a sophomore education and dance major.

Wahid described Bobby as “a real bad guy — the total opposite of who I am.”

“He’s very abusive, Bobby,” Wahid said. “He’s a high school kid, wants to go to college and play basketball. Women are stopping him from doing that, so he’s upset with them.”

Like Bobby, Wahid said he grew up around women. He feels he has some connection to the character, but he’s had to tap into different emotions to portray him.

“It’s been a very interesting learning experience,” Wahid said of “The Sirens,” which is his first play.

But the production hasn’t been without challenges.

Dorsey said it’s difficult, as a male director, to manage scenes with women in intimate situations. Also, new talent and new attitudes result in a whole new chemistry. Even with almost 30 years of experience, that’s a challenge for Dorsey.

“I guess the biggest challenge was to overcome my own issues in terms of dealing with… prostitution,” Dorsey said. “Try to… bring some dignity to the lives of these women.”

Dorsey said an important message of “The Sirens” is that sometimes life places us in situations over which we have no control.

“I don’t know of anyone who says, ‘I want to live in poverty,’” Dorsey said. “I don’t know of anyone saying, ‘I want to live a life of prostitution.’”

Contact ethnic affairs reporter Aaron Kinney at [email protected].