I feel privileged sitting in the small Chicago Greenhouse Theater with an intimate group invited to see the first professional staging of a new play, My Whorizontal Life by Sephe Haven. OK, the title is a giveaway. This is a solo recollection of her life by the escort voted #1 in New York by her clients. I am in sacred company, of a sort.
My entre to this new sisterhood is six degrees of separation. Sephe’s drama coach and the stage manager for this production, Aubyn Philabaum, is the daughter of good friends from Tucson. Through them, I gained this precious pass.
The stage is almost bare: a large rectangle that I assume will be a bed. There is a bordello-type swag attached to the back wall. There’s a straight chair with a small table beside it. Right off, I know this is great for small theaters with no production budget.
Our memoirist, Isadora O’Boto, comes on stage. She’s diminutive, in a pale-yellow sundress with a corset-tight bodice that accentuates her generous bosom, modestly. Her hair is golden red, long, neat, but not styled. Her lips are generous – the most prominent feature on her face. She speaks, her voice is soft, almost wispy, but easy to understand. She clearly knows how to project. And for the next 90 minutes, I am spellbound as I learn about Horizontal Life.
High-class escorts of Isadora’s caliber don’t just happen. She worked the trade using the best stage training available – theater degrees from Yale and Julliard. Isadora comes from strong Chicago stock. She gritted and student-loaned herself through an MFA degree only to be told when she graduated in the 80s that her physical “type” was not suited to television or the stage: big lips, big nose (at that time), big bosom. She was no Goldie Hawn, Meg Ryan or Jane Fonda.
Wanting to stay in New York, close to the possible action, Isadora took any odd job available, until she could no longer pay the rent and the student loans. Scanning The Village Voice for gigs, nestled among the Men Seeking Women and vice versa ads, she saw one offering jobs to “escorts” for $1,000 a night.
Let’s cut to the chase and agree that Isadora found a job at which she excelled, where her dramatic training was put to the best use, and where the money rolled.
Her stories of johns, madams, shysters, cops, dear friends, and her desire to be the best, warm the evening. Our small audience embraces this remarkable woman – a star is born!
Oh, there were some challenges to this work in process. My Whorizontal Life evolves through vignettes. Right now, they aren’t smoothly segued one to the next, and the audience is unsure what to do with the pauses – so they applaud. Welcome, I’m sure, but not appropriate until the end of the production.
Currently, Isadora moves to the side of the stage, faces the wall, drinks water, and regroups. On television, this would be a “fade to black” moment. On stage, the audience needs to know what is happening.
This can be accomplished either by explaining how the vignettes will role, or by Isadora sitting on the bed, or in her chair, smiling, and sipping her water, clearly regrouping for the next vignette.
Isadora O’Boto is the real name (so I’m told but have not searched for a Chicago birth certificate!) and Sephe Haven is her nom d’plume. I struggled with the confusion of looking at the program clearly labeled “A play by Sephe Haven,” and also clearly labeled, “Performed by Isadora O’Boto”, when we know they are one and the same.
Agh! Who is whom? Queries confirmed this is a problem caused by copywrite laws and other foo-faa that should not be confusing the theater or book patron. Let’s hope they get this settled. It’s hard to be a star with two names.
To enjoy to the fullest, read the book. After the play, I immediately ordered the book from Amazon and enjoyed this easy, fun read. Some of the stories are produced on the stage.
And there’s another book, A Someday Courtesan: Memoir Stories by Sephe Haven. This is a prequel. I’m looking forward to it.
Whorizontal stories would be a fab adult series for a streaming channel. I hope that Isadora will find a big-money producer to put My Whorizontal Life on the road. It could play for months in intimate theaters across the U.S. Broadway? Perhaps; one-person shows often succeed. I remember being entranced by Spalding Gray and Lily Tomlin. Why not Isadora/Sephe – once she decides who is the star!
For more theater reviews, go to https://sixtyandme.com/author/ann-boland/.
Have you attended new plays before they were made available to the general public? How do you provide feedback? Do you read the original book when you’ve seen the play or TV production?