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Lela & Co. Tells One Woman’s Story of Sex Trafficking, Prostitution and Abuse

Garret Storms and Natalie Young in Lela & Co.EXPAND
Garret Storms and Natalie Young in Lela & Co.
Evan Michael Wood

For the second show of their 2019 season, Second Thought Theatre will present the local premiere of Lela & Co. by Cordelia Lynn. First performed at London’s Royal Court Theatre in 2015, Lynn's play explores sex trafficking, cross-border prostitution and domestic abuse through the story of one woman. Lela is the storyteller whose monologue is continually interrupted by male voices. Based on true stories from conflict zones all over the world, Lela & Co. recounts the unspeakable horrors one woman faced in the middle of a war zone.

Alex Organ, Second Thought’s artistic director, puts the story in context.

“In 2019, as most of the western world wrestles with #metoo and #timesup, it is easy to forget that in many parts of the world, women continue to struggle for basic personhood," Organ says. "In telling Lela’s story, not only does the playwright ask us to acknowledge the existence of these forgotten women and girls, she forces us to reckon with our own American privilege in ways most of us have never considered.”

Lela leads audiences through an emotionally wrenching account of abuse at the hands of men that begins when she is a young girl. Lela grows up in a house full of women but is subject to the cruel whims of an abusive father. As a teenager, she is victimized by her brother-in-law and later her savage husband. Men view her body as a commodity. Garret Storms portrays the series of five men who interrupt Lela’s story, and her life, as they use and abuse her for their own profit.

Dallas actress and Second Thought alumna Natalie Young stars as Lela, whose survival seems dependent on telling her story. The role includes nearly 90 minutes narrating the grim specifics of the character’s harrowing life.

“It’s a mind-boggling amount to memorize in a short period of time," Young says. "Anything I can purge out of my frontal lobe to make space for Lela’s story. Luckily the language is quite lyrical; it has its own internal music and music is far simpler to memorize than prose.”

Director Kara-Lynn Vaeni explains Young faces quite a bit of challenges in the title role.

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“It requires the endurance of an Olympic athlete for the actor playing Lela," Vaeni says. "It's a bigger challenge than Hamlet. She never leaves the stage. It's a marathon for Natalie, and she attacks it voraciously every night.”

Vaeni explains Second Thought’s perspective for their presentation of this tense, emotional story.

“We are approaching the story as a fairy tale that goes extremely wrong," she says. "What follows is a devastating, often funny journey.”

Lela & Co. runs April 1 through April 27 at Bryant Hall. Tickets are $25.

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