Every Woman Has a Story in Sarah Jones's Sell/Buy/Date
The famed monologist scrutinizes the sex industry in her new show.
In her solo play, Sell/Buy/Date, Sarah Jones exposes the exploitation of women with 20/20 vision. By setting the play in the far future, where a professor looks back at the dystopian reality that our modern planet could be journeying toward, she allows the audience to see every perspective. But she lets neither the audience nor her main character off too easily. Provocative, shrewd, and shockingly funny, Sell/Buy/Date is a tour de force for Jones the writer as well as the actor.
Dr. Serene Campbell grants students insight into humans from long ago, from 2019 to the 2030s (which were known as the Dirty Thirties) by accessing archives from BERT (Bio-Empathetic Resonant Technology), chronicles that allow the viewer to sense the interviewee's emotions. She often interrupts her own lecture to handle a precarious situation, one that could curtail her career.
A savvy impressionist, Jones brings the distinct layers of multiple diverse characters combined with the political edge of Anna Deavere Smith. Jones's accents are impeccable. She slides from British to Brooklyn Jew, Southern, Australian, and Russian sometimes within seconds. Her body morphs with each characterization, from the jittery hands and darting eyes of an elderly Jewish woman who explores pornography as a sexual enhancement, to the youthful exuberance of an American Southern tour guide sharing the joys of working in a brothel-resort. Jones changes her gait and strains her face with each character, embodying each of them clearly and in a way that never feels like a stunt.
The play explores all angles of the sex industry gone amok, from former pimps who have found the spiritual light, brothel workers brainwashed into believing the company line, activists who refute that sex workers have become empowered, and influential sex traders who have become rich selling another commodity. In the end, the title says it all. Not only are the players selling and buying dates, but the women are stripped of their youth, only to be used up when they're no longer Kewpie dolls for the men, their sell-by date always creeping closer.
Jones's timely topic reveals how this overwhelmingly patriarchal society has bound women so that only a natural disaster, the hand of God, can set the world right. What really resonates is that even a learned, woke woman can find herself unintentionally misusing others. Jones recognizes that corruption may be in the human race's DNA. Jones's only misstep in the piece is that she could have made Dr. Campbell a pure observer in this story rather than chasing her own storyline.
Director Carolyn Cantor has Jones on a stripped-down but high-tech stage of neon lights. When Jones's main character has her virtual assistant drop her lecture mode so she has privacy, designer Elizabeth Harper's low lighting starkly gives the impression the doctor is in a private prison, trapped by her own devices. On a political front, when one character wins an award at a state-run pornography channel, the lights are red and blue stripes, but the patriotic white bars are replaced with black ones. It's an ugly portrait of what America could look like in the future, one that disrespects everything upon which it was built.
In 85 minutes, Sarah Jones bites off a huge chunk of a hot topic, yet in that compact period of time, she takes the audience on a journey through the human condition, one that is in danger of becoming more corrupt with each passing day. She shines a mirror on the world's flippancy toward sexploitation and how it destroys our condition. Hopefully, Jones is not a Cassandra who will be ignored, but rather a beacon of warning.