London playwright David Hines exhibits profound insight into a dark corner of human need as he chronicles one night in the life of Liz (Bettina Ottenstein), a cockney-accented prostitute who plies her trade in the seedy Kings Cross section of London. Guided by the insightful direction of Robert Parr, Ottenstein is brilliant as the uneducated but innately bright, good-natured lady of the night who speaks matter-of-factly of the totally degrading, highly dangerous life on the streets, while desperately clinging to her dreams of being a good mother to the 5-year-old son who was taken away from her.

London playwright David Hines exhibits profound insight into a dark corner of human need as he chronicles one night in the life of Liz (Bettina Ottenstein), a cockney-accented prostitute who plies her trade in the seedy Kings Cross section of London. Guided by the insightful direction of Robert Parr, Ottenstein is brilliant as the uneducated but innately bright, good-natured lady of the night who speaks matter-of-factly of the totally degrading, highly dangerous life on the streets, while desperately clinging to her dreams of being a good mother to the 5-year-old son who was taken away from her.

Pacing back and forth in torturously high spiked heels and a thin black raincoat (covering nothing but skimpy undergarments), Ottenstein’s Liz speaks pleasantly and openly to an unseen bystander about her life and the “punters” (customers) who affect it. Occasionally, she breaks the flow of her narrative to deal with a potential client, transforming herself into a comically insincere seductress who offers to do the “business” any way the punter wants. She draws the line, however, at doing it the “Italian Way,” and the punter absolutely must wear a “durex” (condom).

Ottenstein manages to be heartbreakingly fragile, yet exudes a resiliency that shields Liz emotionally from the ever-present peril that surrounds her. Calmly advising against ever going to a bloke’s flat or getting into a van, she then relates her history of having been battered and abused. Her description of being beaten and gang-raped in a van, then tossed out of the moving vehicle is made even more harrowing because she places no blame for the incident on anything other than her own inexperience.

Ottenstein even achieves a level of levity when talking about her “regulars,” especially the nice old bloke who only wants to be spanked and who is one of the exceptions to her rule of never going to the punter’s flat. Her tale of trying to do the deed with him upstairs in the bathroom while his grandchildren were knocking on the door, trying to find out what all the ruckus was about, is actually hilarious.

As if divulging the most personal and important aspects of her life, she reveals the two psychological life rafts that keep her going. Tenderly extracting a photo from her purse, she tells of her devotion to her son Christopher, who is living in foster care. She also talks of Josie, a female bartender who is her mentor (She gave Liz “Animal Farm” to read) and with whom she sleeps.

As the evening wears on and Liz has not turned a trick, playwright Hines delves deeper into the underlying terror that is omnipresent. Laughing bitterly, Liz scoffs at the literary insinuation that hooking is “the world’s oldest profession” instead of the “hard, unskilled labor” that confronts her every night. Also, she is keenly aware that hovering down the street in his expensive limo is the dangerous pimp who wants to enslave her or cripple her.

Ottenstein manages to display every aspect of Liz’s crumbling resolve as a prospective client keeps returning, offering her more and more money to service him without his wearing any protection. Finally, with the poten-tially lethal possibilities of what she is about to do clearly showing on her face, Liz utters a hopeless, “I really need the money” and then leans down to get in the man’s car.

The uncredited, graffiti-strewn, corrugated aluminum backdrop provides an effective setting for the action, but Ben Ainlay’s meandering light design is more distracting than useful.

Bondage: A Night in the Life of a Prostitute

Zephyr Theater: 99 seats; $30 top

Production

The Zephyr Theater presents a play in one act, written by David Hines, directed by Robert Parr.

Cast

Cast: Bettina Ottenstein (Liz)
Lighting design, Ben Ainlay; set consultant, Kim Richter. Opened Jan. 24, reviewed Jan. 25; runs until March 8. Running time: 60 mins.

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