As shepherded by Signature’s artistic second-in-command, Matthew Gardiner — who hereby submits his credentials for entry to the first-class cabin of Washington directors — “Really Really” is the sharpest original play the Arlington company has offered up in years. Granted, this has not been Signature’s strongest suit. Still, the confident wit and topical vitality of “Really Really” assuredly propels Signature into the thick of the region’s hunt for new plays of provocation and style.
The 26-year-old Colaizzo wags a scandalized finger at his own generation in “Really Really,” and cries “shame.” While quiet moments are interlaced deftly with the rat-a-tat dialogue in this character-rich environment, there are no tender ones. Colaizzo’s young people — all students, save one, at some American university or other specializing in course work and material comfort — practice what Colaizzo sees as the sorry singleminded preoccupation of the age: looking out ruthlessly for Number One.
He telegraphs this judgment a bit too forcefully in a speech apportioned to one of the students, addressing one of those gatherings of college kids so motivated they’ve got their next 30 years all mapped out on PowerPoint. Her peers, she avers with a mix of self-deprecation and pride, are part of “Generation ‘Me,’ a generation of self-awareness and self-concern.” A group, she adds, that stresses the “I” in iPhone. The speech steps outside the plot to tsk-tsk for us unnecessarily. And yet, as uttered with a shading of irony by the terrific Lauren Culpepper, it’s comically effective, revealing at once the precocity and the insecurities of a pragmatic if entitled age group.
The ugly echo of a key line in her speech — “What can I do to get what I want?” — haunts the rest of the play. Culpepper’s Grace is off-campus roommates with Leigh (Bethany Anne Lind, in a performance of marvelous, if intentionally enigmatic, control). As the play opens, they’re returning to the apartment, exhilarated and inebriated, from what appears to have been an epic kegger. Gardiner’s experience as a choreographer pays off here, for the wordless scene is a sublimely orchestrated exhibition of the giddy wearing-off of hormones and booze.
It’s a galvanizing prologue for the unfolding of a story that is in part about what had happened that debauched night in the party apartment, belonging to bombastic Cooper (Evan Casey) and the seemingly more sensitive Davis (Jake Odmark), teammates on the college rugby team. In counterpoint to the dumb show with Grace and Leigh, the initial encounter with Cooper, Davis and their video-game-playing buddy Johnson (a fine Paul James) is a session of aggressively profane wordplay, during which women — as in the bad-mannered comedies of Neil LaBute — are discussed in language best suited to 12th-century Mongol marauders.