SAU Buzz

Hearts may be Broken but the dangers of humanity surface

by Jessica Karolczak
Posted on Sep 21, 2017

Iowa isn’t dangerous. There aren’t human traffickers here. Human trafficking is not a Quad Cities issue. All of these fallacies are being put to rest by a St. Ambrose alum that wrote an original play confronting the issue. The unique production recently opened in Davenport.

Aaron Randolph III, a 2012 SAU graduate, wrote Broken about the life of a young girl from Davenport who becomes trapped and manipulated into sex trafficking. Tyson Danner, Quad City Theatre Workshop artistic director, directed the production. The play premiered at the Workshop on Aug. 25 and played the next two consecutive weekends. The production received a mass response and continued to run on Sept. 15 and 16.

The play depicts the mind of Alyssa (played by Jessica Denney), referred to as Ally (played by Laila Haley) during childhood memories. The story unravels the chaos of her life after high school student A.J. (played by Keenan Odenkirk) makes her the victim of a rape at a high school party. After A.J.’s blackmailing and clashes with her mother Sharon (played by Jennifer Popple), she is manipulated by her older boyfriend Shaun (played by Thomas Alan Taylor) and loses herself to the confusion and force of sex trafficking.

Throughout the play, the audience sees Alyssa’s memories and thoughts as she is interrogated by detective Mark (played by Michael J. King).

The entire play takes place on a small hexagonal platform covered in sand and dressed with a few benches and a table. It appears to portray the peace of mind that she finds when drawing pictures of a beach.

“I tried to create a play where the audience experiences what goes on in the main character’s head; it’s not perfectly preserved,” Randolph said. “The concept is to see a memory as it plays out in her mind.”

Two documentary-makers on the Workshop board inspired the idea for the play.  Randolph and Danner watched a documentary about human trafficking in Iowa and felt the need to research the topic further.

“I was shocked because I thought, ‘not in Iowa,’” Randolph said. “I like to write plays about things that surprise me because if I can learn then so can others. The more I learned about human trafficking, the more I felt it is a really important story to tell.”

When their idea first took of, the crew got in touch with Braking Traffik, a local resource and legislative advocate for survivors of human trafficking. After this contact, their researching included watching many documentaries, reading survivor autobiographies, reading books and interviewing counsellors, law enforcement and a sexual assault nurse examiner.

“Researching the topic was like submerging my head in water,” Randolph said. “I could only do so much before I needed to come up for air. It was really dark.”

Randolph III wrote most of the play on a noisy bus to Washington D.C. He made his goal telling an interesting story in which the audience would empathize with and feel the emotional trauma endured by the main character.

“My goal is to make the audience care,” Randolph said. “A lot of plays approach social justice like an after-school special, but I feel like people only do something if they care about it. If they are going to care, they need an emotional connection to it.”

Although the play has closed at the Workshop, Randolph and Danner are in the process of making local and regional connections that may lead to more productions of the play. Currently, they are reaching out to Braking Traffik organizations in other communities. In addition, Randolph may adapt the play specifically for performances to high school students, who are prime candidates for manipulation and human trafficking.

Randolph began acting in high school and explored directing and playwriting at SAU. He has written and produced 10 plays and is currently writing a play for the Davenport Junior Theatre. Some of his other plays include Arthur & Merlin, A Green River and an adaptation of Susan Glaspell’s The Inheritors. In addition, he has composed original scores for SAU’s productions of The Tempest and Richard III and Davenport Junior Theatre’s productions of Pegora the Witch and Ramona Quimby. He currently works for Twin State Technical Services and is the president of the QC Theatre Workshop board. He is married with a 14-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter.