Nicky Sunshine's "Confessions of a Massage Parlor Madame" Will Tug At Your Heartstrings
On Saturday, February 9, Nicky Sunshine premiered her one woman show, Confessions of a Massage Parlor Madam, at WOW Cafe Theater in the East Village. Confessions of a Massage Parlor Madam is promoted as a dark comedy/memoir-esque hybrid in which Ms. Sunshine partly acts out, partly shares her testimony in various monologues with the audience. At times it was hard to listen to, but not for any lack of talent with regards to Ms. Sunshine’s performance. Rather, it was emotionally challenging to watch to this sweet, funny, relatable young woman share some of the unimaginable hardships that she endured on her journey to “make it” in the Big Apple. In the post #MeToo era, however, Sunshine’s message and honest portrayal of how a nice, college-educated female could end up working in the sex trade has a message that everyone can learn from.
Nicky Sunshine opened Confessions of a Massage Parlor Madam by talking about her childhood - the sexual abuses she experienced as a kid, the physical and verbal abuse she witnessed between her parents, and the love and support of her grandma that enabled her to attend Northwestern University on a scholarship. Sunshine discusses how at the age of 23, shortly after graduating college, she moved to New York City to pursue her dream of becoming an actress. It was the constant rejection she faced in her pursuit, the staggering expenses of living in the city, and her vulnerability as a young, impressionable female without an immediate support group that ultimately led Nicky to a quick-fix money solution in the form of working at a massage parlor. She details the rest of her experience, providing anecdotes of client encounters, her cold-blooded boss, various arrests and jail time, and terrifying house calls she was forced to make. Eventually, Nicky tells the audience how after one arrest, she decided to take control of her own destiny by opening up her own massage parlor - one that was even featured in Time Out magazine!
Nicky credits her time as a Madam with enabling her to purchase property, and even describes herself as a kind, fair, good boss who took care of her employees and provided a service to clients who were looking for a human connection. Throughout the performance, however, Nicky is very focused on not glorifying the experience; rather, she discusses what it was like, the fears and dangers that she faced on a daily basis, and how and why the work became something she was almost addicted to. It was easy to get lost in her masterful impressions, her colorful and spot-on accents, and her caricatures of some of the people she met along her journey.
I think the most striking thing about this hour-long show was how relatable she was. Nicky was funny and sweet. She was smart and fluent in German. She went to a Top 10 university and struggled to make her rent in notoriously difficult NYC. Listening to Nicky’s story, I could almost see myself in her shoes. The difference is, as an African American woman, Nicky was unfortunately more likely to become a victim of sex trafficking, and even more likely to be prosecuted for it. Confessions of a Massage Parlor Madam opens up a dialogue for the how and why behind this cultural phenomenon, and acts as a call to action to protect our young African American girls from becoming a sex trafficking statistic.
Eventually, Nicky tells the audience how she became tired of the lies, the deception, and the lifestyle. She doesn’t go into much detail about her exit strategy, but she does tell us that she met someone who ultimately helped her get out and stay out. I was so captivated by her story, on the edge of my seat the entire time, that I would have enjoyed to hear a little bit more about how she left her business, whether or not she stays in touch with her friends and former employees, and what she does to support herself now besides acting/comedy. That might be for a Confessions, Part 2, however.
Black History Month is ending shortly, and with it, Confessions of a Massage Parlor Madam. Before it leaves the East Village, Music & Mojitos highly recommends you check out Confessions of a Massage Parlor Madam at WOW Cafe Theatre (59-61 East 4th Street, 4th Floor, New York, NY 10003) for its final shows February 22-24. Click here to purchase tickets.