It’s not an outraged stampede, but the audiences at “Really Really” at Signature Theatre are responding audibly to the show. The plot tracks amoral college kids caught in the awful drain-swirl after an allegation of sexual assault. The flashpoint — though not the bottom-line theme — is rape and consent, blurred by heavy drinking, with 26-year-old playwright Paul Downs Colaizzo deliberately keeping audiences off balance about the accuser’s motives and credibility.
An actor’s sister approached her brother in tears, furious at what she called the play’s “despicable” tactics. A victim of sexual assault wept during the show, yet thanked the cast members afterward for dealing with the subject frankly. Then there was this between two women in the audience: “B---- got what she deserved,” the first one muttered about the accuser. The reply: “How dare you!”
So ran the reports Tuesday night from cast members Jake Odmark
(playing the accused), Evan Casey (as an obnoxious buddy), and Lauren Culpepper (the accuser’s friend). All agreed that audience feedback during and after the show is running well above the usual levels.
“We’ve all had conversations that have had some heat behind them,” Odmark said.
Yet the Tuesday talkback was perfectly civil, perhaps because the audience — and the three dozen patrons staying for the chat — skewed older. (Ah, theater.) Privately, two women in the audience debated the victim’s plausibility: Was the character genuinely distressed? She was appropriately depressed, her companion suggested. The most dissent during the Q&A came by silent show of hands, when director Matthew Gardiner asked how many people believed the accuser.
Half did. This tendency, with its blame-the-victim implications, gives the company slight heartburn.
Kim Rosen, who plays the accuser’s vividly low-rent Machiavellian sister, said during the talkback: “It’s truly shocking how many people, how many women, leave thinking what happens . . . is something she [the accuser] deserved or asked for.” Bethany Anne Lind, riveting as the accuser (see Peter Marks’ review of the “sterling production”), only half-playfully lamented to Odmark, “They’re always on your side.”
Colaizzo is in New York and hasn’t been able to attend any of the callbacks. “But I can say that while I was there, people would come up to me after the show with their opinions of the characters, and they would [assume] that those were my opinions of the characters as well,” he said via e-mail. “It was fascinating to hear the differing opinions, but I didn't want to give them my opinion because I figured that would somehow validate or invalidate their experience. Some people would say things that really disturbed me, which was probably the hardest part, because I couldn’t respond with how I actually felt.
“But I’d rather have this sort of discussion afterwards than just have everyone leaving the theatre thinking that I’m a really great guy.”
A psychoanalytic discussion is scheduled for the show’s March 25 closing date, so the conversation — which seems to be itching for greater context and amplification, with more experts tossed into the mix — is sure to continue.