Working Girls | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Working Girls

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Independent filmmaker Lizzie Borden puts her demystifying feminist sensibility to work in this quasi-clinical dissection of a middle-class house of prostitution. The polemical restraint is a pleasant surprise (especially after Borden's angry Born in Flames debut), though sorority considerations still define the ins from the outs (the brothel proprietor is an ultrafemme cartoon: she's not one of the working elect) and the johns are all treated with gently bemused contempt. Still, Borden avoids most of the ideological traps and concentrates instead on demolishing role-playing fantasies (her flat, deadpan style works wonderfully well at this) and revealing, like an anthropologist on a meticulous structural binge, the social dynamics of the trade. Her house is a finely calibrated mechanism, with economic rules to be followed and hygienic rituals to be observed, and the interactions of the "labor force" almost turn the commodity they're selling into an irrelevant side issue. Alienation finally rears its Marxian head at the end (though it's obviously been implicit all along), but I'd have to be more cynical than I am to consider this a cop-out. The working-girl cast--Louise Smith, Amanda Goodwin, Marusia Zach--are all fine, and even Ellen McElduff (as the madam) and Janne Peters make a good case for their caricaturish roles. (Fine Arts)

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