Coffee Rhetoric: HartBeat Ensemble Raises Awareness with New Stage-play: “Riding the Turnpike”

April 23, 2013

HartBeat Ensemble Raises Awareness with New Stage-play: “Riding the Turnpike”


Hartford-based professional theater company HartBeat Ensemble, is back with another compelling main-stage play called Riding the Turnpike. It follows the successful run of their original production Flipside, performed at downtown Hartford’s Hollander Building and at the 2012 New York Fringe Festival.

After the devastating and untimely loss of beloved co-Artistic Director/co-founder and Hartford arts community favorite, Gregory “Tate” Tate to lung cancer last year, the team honors his legacy by doing what they do best… which is to create original,  accessible, investigative and socially aware Hartford theater. This time, HartBeat Ensemble is kicking off the next phase of their creative journey, having signed a multi-year agreement in a new home at the Carriage House Theater in Hartford, a 76-seat venue that formerly housed the Hartford Children’s Theater.


Based on Raymond Bechard’s book "The Berlin Turnpike: A True Story of Human Trafficking in
America", Riding the Turnpike— co-written by HartBeat Ensemble cast members Cindy Martinez (who plays ‘Helen’) and Debra Walsh, under the directorship of Steven Raider-Ginsburg — sheds light on the secret underbelly of commercial sex trafficking on the Berlin Turnpike; a stretch of highway that runs through the towns of Berlin, Newington, and Wethersfield, CT.  

Set in a strip club along the infamous highway, ‘Riding the Turnpike’ introduces the audience to four different women involved in prostitution for different reasons.  The lines between who is trafficked, who’s there of their own volition, and who’s merely trying to survive, become blurred, as the club comes under criminal investigation and the women find themselves navigating their own disparate situations… each, more complex, than the next.

While the conclusion seemed to end in a cliffhanger that left me champing at bit for more, Riding the Turpike pulls no punches and features a series of explicit scenarios to illustrate the pitfalls and exploitative business of selling women for profit, and the plight of sex workers who don't always consent or have agency over their own bodies.

Magic, the enterprising pimp and owner of the strip club Trance Six, is scrambling for a way to take the heat off himself; so he uses a number of manipulative and emotionally abusive tactics to keep his girls in line, most notably on Rose, his naive "bottom", who yields to a number of indignities at Magic's behest, yet is still convinced he has her best interest in mind.
In one scene that takes place before a sex-fueled party they've been hired for, Magic coerces his young male protege, Rayne, to spike the drink Trance Six's newest girl, a recovering addict desperately trying to regain custody of her son, so she'll fail her court ordered drug test and stay under his employ.

HBE’s co-Artistic Directors/founders Julia Rosenblatt and Ginsburg says of the group’s latest production... 
“Because our work is based on real women and first-hand interviews, the play will break through many of the mythologies and give audiences insight into what the sex trade really looks like in our current society and in our own backyard. We are thrilled to be producing ‘Riding the Turnpike’ and believe this richly imagined play is a true example of HartBeat’s commitment to work, that defies boundaries and uses tools of theater to tell untold stories of our community.”
Most commonly known as a popular shopping outlet, the Berlin Turnpike also became synonymous with illegal drag-racing. Commercial sex trafficking activity in CT raised people's awareness via a 2007 federal trial known as The United States vs. Dennis Paris; which was unprecedented, considering CT is one of the richest states in the U.S, and the unlikeliest place for rampant sexual exploitation to occur.
Contributing Vanity Fair correspondent, Amy Fine Collins, wrote one of the most widely-read articles on commercial sex trafficking for the magazine in 2011, detailing how much closer to home it is than any of us could have ever imagined.

Riding the Turnpike previews April 24th-25th, opens April 26th, and will run until May 18th,Wednesday – Saturday, with show times starting at 7:30 PM. General admission is $15; and $10 for all students, seniors, and Let*s Go Arts! members. All performances take place at the Carriage House Theater at 380 Farmington Avenue in Hartford, CT. For questions and all other information visit Hartbeatensemble.org.


HartBeat Ensemble creates theater productions based on stories drawn from contemporary life in Connecticut. Through Mainstage Plays and Education Programs, HartBeat develops theater works accessible beyond the barriers of class, race, geography and gender.