It hopes to challenge perceptions, change behavior and inspire action. That’s why Her Story Theater set its play about men who buy sex on the tony North Shore.
“Shadowtown II: The Johns” introduces you to CJ, a 21-year-old college student who is drawn into the world of sex through porn. He’s good looking, popular and not the kind of guy you’d expect to buy sex.
“I was like, ‘Wow, I relate so much to this young man,' which is scary,” said Adam Marcantoni, who plays CJ. “I don’t want to relate to someone who buys 15-year-old prostitutes.”
Turns out CJ’s father, “Chase Johnson II” (played by Doug Schuetz), is also a client of the teenaged prostitute “Baby Girl” (played by Sarah Mellas).
“Baby Girl” was drawn into a life of prostitution by a pimp when she was 12.
The age may be shocking, but it is not an exaggeration. A 2008 study by the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority about the commercial exploitation of young people in Illinois found the average age of their study participants was 12.
“You can order these girls like Pizza Hut,” said Shadowtown II writer and director Mary Bonnett.
Mary Bonnett also wrote and directed “Shadowtown,” which was about sex trafficking in the Chicago area. To research the issue she interviewed hundreds of people, including current and former prostitutes, johns, pimps and law enforcement officers. She hopes to raise awareness and specifically wanted to bring this play to the North Shore to drive home the point that “johns” come from every walk of life. “They’d be great family men and great fathers and yet this was sport to them.”
A 2013 study by The Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE) bears that out. In monitoring online forums for johns, CAASE heard the practice of buying a prostitute being described as “our great hobby” and “an expensive and risky sport.”
“The biggest shock to me was how these men compartmentalize,” Bonnett said.
Along with raising awareness, Bonnett hopes "Shadowtown II: The Johns" will also be a call to action.
“Theater is a powerful tool,” Bonnett said. “We can’t let this continue. This is modern day slavery.”
"Shadowtown II: The Johns" runs Thursdays through Sundays until Nov. 23 at the Mayer Kaplan Theater at 5050 Church Street in Skokie.
For ticket information go to www.brownpapertickets.com.