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Prostitution: Redefined, again

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Wassa Coulibaly’s Art of Prostitution is in its second run at the Onyx Theatre.

While beauty is in the eye of the beholder and “art” is up for interpretation, The Art of Prostitution is back and more beautiful than before.

The creative force behind the production, Wassa Coulibaly, has been tweaking, re-writing, and redefining her side project since the curtain closed on its two sold-out performances last fall.

To say the 32-year-old Cirque du Soleil performer’s extra-curricular work has paid off would be an understatement. The latest incarnation of her play, which she refers to as her “baby,” is tighter and more coherent than the original; the set and storyline have been enhanced, meaning few of the lessons learned onstage will be missed by those in the audience; and a few new co-stars have joined what was already an amazingly-talented cast.

Not that the initial rendition was bad; it was both innovative and impressive. Still, v2.0 has shifted “The Art of Prostitution” from “good” to “great.”

The story explores prostitution and sexuality from a variety of perceptions and perspectives.

“When something is repressed, sexuality comes out in a distorted way,” Coulibaly observes.

These distortions manifest in the characters, which include an oppressed “slut” who shames her family after engaging in premarital sex, a “happy ending”-giving Geisha, a heartbroken gigolo, a substance-abusing French woman of the night and the men who benefit from their services.

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From the Archives
Oldest profession is newest off-Strip show (11/24/08)
From the Calendar
Art of Prostitution at the Onyx
March 19, 1 a.m.
$15
Beyond the Weekly
Wassa Coulibaly

The production explores both the pains and triumphs of the prostitute experience and takes audiences on an arousing journey from repression to bliss.

Despite being performed in the middle of the night on a small stage tucked away off East Sahara Avenue, the feel is more “Off Broadway” than “barebones budget local theater” –though none of the actors are being paid anything close to the guild standard.

Still, the Onyx Theatre is an appropriate venue, with just 96 seats nestled behind a sex shop in the same strip mall as the Green Door. The surroundings set the stage for the gritty, sexy show and provide for a raw and intimate look at the equally raw and intimate production.

And instead of paying north of $60 for so-called “cheap seats” on The Strip, all tickets to “The Art of Prostitution” are just $15.

The show features Strip-caliber talent on a much smaller stage and, as such, may very well be the best deal on the Vegas theater scene right now, ounce of talent per dollar spent – if you can get a ticket.

Just three performances were scheduled, meaning admission will be limited to less than 300 people over the play’s three-night run.

The cast was drawn from Coulibaly’s collection of contacts and co-workers. The hour-long production involves a creative collection of professionals who generally pay their rent through full-time gigs with Cirque shows (including KA, O, Zumanity, and Believe) and other productions, like (the now defunct) Stomp and Le Rêve.

The 20-member cast’s professional pedigree makes for a superb display of lean, toned and beautiful bodies onstage. Sexy and strong, their flexibility, both physical and artistic, is thrilling.

Because of their so-called “day jobs,” rehearsals had to be planned around the performers’ schedules, which meant weeks of afternoon run-throughs five days a week before opening night. It also meant that after rehearsing for hours, the cast had to head to their respective theaters on the Strip and perform in their other, more family-friendly shows.

Professional commitments also meant that the performances themselves had to be scheduled outside of standard show hours. And, since “prostitution” doesn’t really appeal to the matinee crowd, the play adopted a 1 a.m. curtain time.

While the schedule has been demanding, the sassy production has allowed those involved to exercise their creativity outside of their established roles on The Strip. And that, Coulibaly says, makes it all worth it.

“People have worked so hard,” the feisty Senegalese-born woman said. “I feel like we have a show, I feel really good about it.”

The new and improved production of “The Art of Prostitution” debuted last week. March 19 marks the final performance. Tickets for the 1 a.m. showings are available online, at www.onyxtheatre.com, or at the Onyx box office, inside The Rack, at 953 E. Sahara Ave., unit 16.

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Melissa Arseniuk

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