Theater Review: Kenyetta Lethridge's 'Innocent Flesh'

The new social drama, playing for five weeks at the Zephyr Theatre, exposes the realities of sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking of children in America.

Young American girls are being raped daily for profit in communities we call home.  Why? Because there are adults who demand to have sex with our children.

In a brand new social drama, opening to a full house at the Zephyr Theatre on Tuesday evening, with a brazenly bold all-girl, cast, Innocent Flesh (formerly the making of an american girl) exposes the hardship and realities of the sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking of children in America.

It’s not a foreign problem. It’s right on your street, your block, around the corner, right in front of your eyes.

Speaking with writer/director and NAACP award winner, Kenyetta Lethridge, was an eye-opening experience. A native of Los Angeles born and raised right on Crenshaw, Kenyetta explained to me what growing up in the neighborhood was really like. 

“It happened to me every day. I got approached.”

What she’s referring to is “the life” otherwise known as “the track” in street speak.  A life that is portrayed through the loosely adapted stories of four real teen prostitutes who have innocent childhood dreams as we see them “Double-Dutch” on the sidewalk, but who one by one, fall prey to her own unique kind of violence and end up “turned out” as early as age 12. 

Each one has her fantasy, "I want to be pretty," "I want to be a lawyer and lock up all the criminals," "I want to be on TV," "I want to be famous," "I want to have lots of expensive clothes," "I want to be a foreign ambassador like Angelina Jolie and have 10 kids and be rich and come home and be in a movie."

Written in a multi-layered style that uses poetry, dance, and a modern take on the classic Greek Chorus, Innocent Flesh very clearly and quite provocatively breaks the forth wall and puts us smack in the life, side by side with the girls, as if we were one of their friends. Through confessional vignettes, games, and guided flash backs, we experience first-hand how girls of all walks of life can find themselves on the streets. 

Throughout this play, and underlying every bruising, beating, sex act, and catastrophe, what these girls really deal with is neglect and psychological abuse.  But in every case, what they all come back to is their true hearts’ desire reflected in chant:

“I want someone to love me”

“I want someone to love me”

“I want someone to love me”

After the show, I sat with the cast and asked each girl what it was like having to prepare for a role like this. Each had something similar to say. What was most interesting is that each of the girls sounded more like the characters they were playing than themselves, which really drove the point home:

Daphne Gabriel – “I have to pump myself up to do this every night…”

Angelina Prendergast – “All I can think is, I have to go through that again...”

Jameelah Nuriddin – “I feel brave. It takes courage to overcome each night…”

Clara Gabrielle – “I was really reluctant when I first read the stage directions. I didn’t think I was ready. I was scared. It’s made me more, brave.”

One thing Ms. Lethridge was really insistent on with this production was that it stayed on the lighter side. Writing from an actor’s point of view, it was important to keep this show relatable. The challenge was to keep the comedy within the story.  It’s not gruesome. But it is direct. The words coming out of these girls mouths are totally honest. 

“It is vital that we take notice and not turn our backs on what is ugly.”

Michael Mann, one of the show’s producers, is excited. According to Mr. Mann Innocent Flesh has been a “frozen production” in workshops since 2010. Tuesday night’s performance was its official West Coast debut before it travels to New York City for an Off-Broadway premiere. 

West Hollywood audiences are getting the first look. Having grown up in the business of theater since he was 5 years old, working with such greats over the years as Ed Sullivan, Jimmy Durante, Bette Davis, Milton Berle, Rob Reiner, Liza Minnelli (to name just a few), Mr. Mann is behind the show and the message. It is powerful. It is important. And it’s more than just a play. 

According to Ms. Lethridge, it’s a movement—a massive vision that she plans to expand until everyone finally grabs their daughters, nieces, sisters and says, “I’m here for you.”

Innocent Flesh

Written and Directed by Kenyetta Lethridge

Produced by Michael Mann, Diana C. Zollicoffer and Kenyetta Lethridge

Featuring: Daphne Gabriel, Clara Gabrielle, Jameelah Nuriddin, and Angelina Prendergast.

Now playing at:

The Zephyr Theatre

7456 Melrose Ave.

Tickets: $30

Tuesdays and Wednesdays, Jan. 17, 18, 24, 25, 31, and Feb. 1
Wednesdays and Thursdays, Feb. 8, 15, 16 at 8 p.m.

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Diana ZOLLICOFFER January 20, 2012 at 01:16 AM
Tracey, Thank you for such a great review. This play is what makes American Theater so great. We know we are pushing the envelope and as producers/artists/humanitarians we are not afraid of exposing the truth. Many thanks, Diana C. Zollicoffer Producer/Partner "Innocent Flesh:a play in one-act"
Peggy Sweeney-McDonald January 20, 2012 at 03:49 AM
Thanks, Tracey for attending and we are so thrilled with your great review! It was great meeting you too! - Peggy Sweeney-McDonald, Associate Producer
Trevor Davis January 22, 2012 at 05:34 AM
What an amazing show. I saw it when it was still being workshopped at Imaginese (www.imagineusfree.com), and I was completely blown away. "Innocent Flesh" rips through the defenses around your heart and grasps tight, forcing you to engage and challenging you to do something, ANYTHING, to forever eradicate every last vestige of this horror from our communities and from the world.


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