Kathleen Warfel as Bonnie
By Marissa Carter
“The failure of traditional courts to provide viable exits from prostitution has led to the exploration of alternative solutions. Philadelphia’s Project Dawn Court is one such attempt.”
– Mary Allison Joseph, PROJECT DAWN Dramaturg
The Project Dawn Court in Philadelphia is a “problem-solving court” that attempts to offer solutions and options to women with three or more prostitution arrests. The program has several phases and offers rehabilitation, education, therapy, housing assistance, and more. The idea is to help the women improve their circumstances instead of just locking them up. The program is somewhat controversial because, although the premise makes sense, the success rate is not as high as the program creators hoped or expected.
In PROJECT DAWN, Playwright Karen Hartman has captured the essence of the program, and introduced the myriad issues that participants face.
Fourteen characters are played by seven women — the actresses switch roles in mid-scene, becoming lawyers, prostitutes and judges by changing a single article of clothing, or a hairstyle. By casting each woman in a dual role, we see firsthand the contrast between a female lawyer in a power suit and a recovering addict trying to resist running back to the life she knows on the streets.
The effect is riveting as we hear the stories of all fourteen women — their struggles, their hopes, their lives are laid bare. The courtroom setting allows for multiple viewpoints, and hard issues such as racism, mental illness, consent, drug addiction, and life choices are introduced and discussed in a very raw and real way.
The team at Unicorn Theatre has done an excellent job with the production itself. The casting and direction are virtually flawless. The character changes are fluid, and everything — the set, the lighting, the staging — adds grace and dignity to the ideas expressed throughout the show, while simultaneously highlighting the cold and clinical way that these women are dealt with in our society.
There is no trigger warning strong enough for this one, yet it is a show that needs to be seen. These are stories that need to be heard, and issues that need to be discussed.
PROJECT DAWN runs at the Unicorn Theatre through February 18th. More info at unicorntheatre.org.