by JK Clarke
The new musical,Trinkets, running through February 3 at the Gene Frankel Theatre on Bond street explores the human underside of a culture that was considered “seedy” and dangerous. Before social media hookup sites like Craigslist, Backpage (or for that matter Tinder or Grindr) wiped them off the map, numerous “strolls” in New York City were the domain of streetwalkers plying their trade, selling sexual encounters for desperately needed money. One of most notorious took place in and around The Meatpacking District, which by day was just that—a place where wholesale meats were delivered and then repackaged for various markets throughout the city. Today it’s a high fashion boutique district crammed with filthy rich tourists and irritating reality stars. The raised, covered wooden sidewalks where slabs of beef hung on hooks have been replaced by fashionistas gawking at the latest Stella McCartney collection.
In the tradition of countless musicals (e.g. Rent, Cabaret) about lives of the struggling underclasses, Trinkets (music and book and direction by Paul E. Alexander, founding member of The Ones, an 80s pop group whose hit “Flawless” was covered by George Michael) explores the personal lives of the transsexual prostitutes who worked the daunting streets of the Meatpacking district at night in the sex and drug trade, revealing their very real pain and suffering of everyday life, from their often heartbreaking romantic interactions to their attempts to succeed or merely escape the perils of drug addiction. These humanizing elements represent the sharp contrast to the extraordinary difficulties these women faced from the outset. Transsexual women were (and continue to be) the subject of relentless social alienation, ferocious violence and abject employment discrimination which left them little choice other than in the harsh dangers of the underworld, most notably in the sex trade.
Trinkets follows a brief period in the lives of three established hookers Diva (Honey Davenport), Janet (Jay Knowles) and Blondie (Antyon Le Monte), when newcomer Strawberry (Mercedes Torres) enters their lives. In a brief respite at the club Trinkets—owned by the eponymous ex-hooker (Julia Rose) who has “made it”—Strawberry meets Diego (Tyler Waage) a famous artist who’s there with his cokehead model girlfriend Binky (Isabel Lodge) and fashion designer Bev Everly (Nora Burns) and they fall in love at first sight. Strawberry’s co-workers caution her against falling for him, but he turns out to be sincere and their love real.
Despite uneven performances and a book that lacks substance and a strong through line, Trinkets is a musical with enormous potential. With highlights from catchy, well-written songs (which unfortunately aren’t listed by name in the program) and knockout performances by Burgandy Williams as doorgirl Kitten Control and Kevin Aviance as club performer Mr. Pea-me and costumes by Alpana Bawa and David Dalrymple, the audience is sustained through paradoxically weak moments. Certain performers could neither act nor had any business singing on a stage, which was illuminated by the performers who could. What Trinkets needs is an overhaul, a re-write to pick up story’s pace and flow, along with re-casting with a more evenly matched cast. A serious investment and re-working of this production could create a hit. I hope it happens.
Trinkets. Through February 3, Thursdays through Sundays, at The Gene Frankel Theatre (24 Bond Street, between The Bowery and Lafayette, NoHo). One and a half hours with a fifteen minute intermission. www.genefrankeltheatre.com
Photos: Lola Flash