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Hotel Happy – A Play about Sex Workers and a Donkey

By Lori Perkins

I received an invitation to join friend and colleague Veronica Vera , noted feminist and sex workers rights advocate, at a new play at the Judson Memorial Church theater space in the East Village.  I love Veronica.  Haven’t seen her since we received an IPPY Award for our #MeToo anthology, before the pandemic, so I said yes, even though the description of the play did not entice me – “A play about sexual tourism in Colombia and that industry’s close connection to the country’s ongoing armed conflict, Hotel Happy explores U.S.-Colombian relationships using the power of absurdity to reflect how the decimating effects of war displace us all. This timely and ambitious project boasts a seven-person cast and an eighth character –a donkey– played by a life-size puppet.”

Honestly, I feared that at best it was going to be a semi- farcical sex play about Latin American sex workers trying to save a donkey that was being abused in a brothel.  Since it was being hosted by Judson Memorial Church’s theater space, I figured it would have some animal rights elements, and maybe some metaphorical  allusions to the donkey as a sacrifice and/or savior. I could not have been more wrong.

The basic premise is that a soft-hearted sex worker finds a donkey in the Columbian foothills who kind of befriends her, only to see him later being beaten by various men.  She brings him back to the brothel and nurses him to health with the aid of two of her colleagues, only to find that he has been forced-ingested a surgical glove stuffed full of emeralds (see NOT what you expected).

When new American clientele arrive, the women have to hide the donkey from the brothel’s Madame, as well as the clientele, who, it turns out, are on a secret mission to find the donkey, but only one of them know the real reason for the assignment, which is to retrieve the emeralds.

As the farcical play unwinds, we also learn about the economics that make legal sex work necessary in Columbia and the women who work in the trade.  It’s a surprisingly compassionate sex farce, a phrase I never imagined I’d ever write in a review.

This play surprised me.  Two and a half hours, with a slight intermission, it kept me both riveted and amused – and even guessing.  I never knew where it was going to go.

The acting was superb (especially the understudy who played the Madame on one day’s notice), the donkey puppetry perfect, and the set creative. Even the music worked well.

The millennial daughter of one of my friends explained to me, as I was extolling the virtues of Everything, Everywhere, All at Once, that post-pandemic, we have to look at all art through many prisms simultaneously. She was placing the movie Barbie in the same category as EEAaO.  Hotel Happy fits that mold too.  It is a sex comedy (reminds me of the sex farces of the 1960’s/70’s without the misogyny), but also a political commentary on sex workers, capitalism and American imperialism, with a touch of Latin American magic realism thrown in for good luck.

It runs through next Sunday, March 4th.  Go.

Use special code "Judson" to get $22 tickets for any night here: 


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