‘The Life’ is a tale of desire, despair and brutality

By Andrew Wernette

The Department of Music, Theatre and Dance is currently showing the musical “The Life” in Varner Studio Theatre.

Directed by theatre professor Fred Love, the musical is a tale of desire, despair and brutality in New York City’s gritty side streets. Here, a network of organized prostitution thrives; No one is totally innocent.

The scene opens with the sexy ensemble number “Check It Out,” followed by an introduction from Devin Price as the slick hustler Jojo. The mood is then set with the song “Use What You Got.”

Cassady Temple plays the protagonist Queen, a red-haired prostitute who hopes to soon break away from “the life.” Temple instills in her character both the fire and the fear of one who struggles against the male-dominated sex trade.

Queen’s discontent is mirrored only in her coworker Sonja, a long-running prostitute played by the powerful Olivia Griffin. Among the other women, Sonja and Queen become close supports for each other as their lives begin to get rougher. Where Queen retains the slightest spark of determination, Sonja exudes a soulful sorrow from years of working the profession.

Garrett Dale Markgraf plays Fleetwood, a shambling fellow whose relationship with Queen wavers between being her boyfriend and her pimp. Any illusion that theirs is a strong romance is quickly dashed, though, when Queen discovers Fleetwood has spent half of her savings to support his cocaine addiction. A fight ensues and Queen storms off, leaving Fleetwood to deteriorate into a more abusive character as the show progresses.

The situation is further complicated by the rag-tag group of pimps and prostitutes on the scene. Brian Baylor gives a convincing performance as the cold, merciless pimp boss Memphis, who serves as the musical’s ultimate antagonist.

The performance deals with sex, coercion, strong language and violence. Queen succumbs to the abuse and deceit of those around her, especially from Fleetwood as he starts to act more like the other pimps. Markgraf’s character forces the audience to question his moral standing: Is Fleetwood as cold and manipulative as the other pimps, or is he just a pathetic bloke of circumstance deserving of the least bit of sympathy?

In fact, the vocal performances seem to be the only thing to truly rise above this underworld. Both Temple and Griffin deliver stunning renditions of musical numbers like “The Oldest Profession” and “My Friend,” while Baylor conveys Memphis’ deadpan lust for power with “Don’t Take Much” and “My Way or the Highway.” Everyone else does equally well, with the orchestra in the background right on point.

“It’s a really emotional show,” Temple said.

This was her first main stage performance.

She explained that she and her cast mates began rehearsing for the musical in the spring.

“I was just kind of preparing myself all summer, it’s been amazing,” she said.

Griffin was likewise thankful for her role in the musical.

“I’m so lucky to have this one,” she said. “I’m in love with being Sonja.”

She said that she was able to connect with her character through Sonja’s disillusionment with life.

“I’m definitely sick and tired with a lot of things with the world,” Griffin said.

“The Life” will continue to be shown from Oct. 15-18 at 8 p.m., with a 10 a.m. showing Oct. 17 and a 2 p.m. showing Oct. 19. For more information, go to oakland.edu/mtd.