It’s a massage parlour in small-town America and the guy who’s just walked in – blond, well-built, late thirties – is hoping, not unreasonably, for a massage. Actually, policeman Curt’s after a little more: the offer of a handjob or even a fuck, and if that is forthcoming, an arrest and possible promotion.
Sandy, the teenage masseuse foils him, acting outraged at the very idea (not easy in lacy underwear: like Clare Latham, who plays her, Sandy is evidently an accomplished actress). But a bond forms between the two. Unlike Curt’s pushy fiancée, Sandy shares his background; they are two slum kids, trying to claw their way into the light.
Director Ché Walker keeps it simple, letting Rebecca Gilman’s complex, absorbing script do the talking. This means the occasional misjudgement echoes louder (would a man who didn’t finish high school really use the word ‘adjunct’?) but mostly, it allows for a sober and heartfelt portrayal of the American poverty trap.
Because it’s not clear if Curt has a hard-on or a saviour complex – or who, indeed, he might be trying to save. ‘The Glory of Living’ playwright Gilman avoids patronising her characters, helped by a fine cast, and if the depiction of prostitution is rather gentle, there is no mistaking the message that every character here, whether tough or timid, is pretty much screwed.