In 2004, Duke University freshman Miriam Weeks made headlines as the Duke Porn Star, Belle Knox, after she was outed by fellow students. Scandalized reporters, parents, and students condemned Weeks for funding her education by making pornography. But Weeks, a Gender Studies and Sociology major, defended her decision, causing a country-wide media frenzy.
“Exposed,” a new play, tells Miriam’s harrowing story, as it spreads from her dorm room to television sets in millions of households. Conceived by director Kristin Heckler and written in collaboration with Sarah Raimondi, Pauline Sherrow and Jacob-Sebastian Phillips, “Exposed” was originally written for an Adaptation class at The New School for Drama. The controversially charged performances and thoroughly developed characters are brought to life by Raimondi, Sherrow and Phillips. In the stage adaptation, Raimondi plays Lauren — also known as Ariel Cox, the Duke Porn Star — while Sherrow and Phillips play a multitude of roles, including Lauren’s best friends, parents, other porn stars and reporters.
Although the play contains several sensitive themes and messages, the team does an incredible job respecting the original story. The play draws from original dialogue, text and audio from Weeks’ personal interviews, blog posts, tweets and porn videos. This research adds authenticity and creates thought-provoking and emotional dilemmas. Raimondi fully embodies her character and her subtle mannerisms evoke the turbulent thoughts and conflicts that plague her character throughout the performance. Meanwhile, Sherrow and Phillips convincingly play a number of multifaceted roles, ranging from her supportive best friends to her distraught and disappointed parents.
Coupled with tasteful porn scenes, the group does an excellent job of incorporating extreme — if not harsh — imagery. Perhaps the most powerful images are the mock radio and television interviews in which Lauren is humiliated and slut-shamed for the sake of national entertainment. Her measured and smart responses make her an admirable character, who is after all, a student of Duke University. This reminds the audience that Lauren’s choices are driven by the costs of higher education.
“Exposed” manages to empathize with Weeks’ experiences while still highlighting the concerns and issues regarding feminism and pornography. The play does not treat the consequences of porn stardom lightly but does challenge viewers to see it a new light. Overall, the play is an effective way to promote discussions about misogyny, sexual discrimination and the rights of sex workers. Furthermore, it brings attention to the extremes some students will risk to afford higher education.
“Exposed” is playing at The Sonnet Theater at The Producer’s Club through Feb. 18.