Nicholas Kazan's "Blood Moon" is a bloodchilling -- even appalling -- drama about the intimate injury of rape and the perverse satisfaction of revenge. The production, which portrays rape and its aftermath in graphic terms, puts Woolly Mammoth on the list of Washington theaters brave enough to probe sensitive areas of adult sexual relations this season.
In the first act, called "Moon," 19-year-old Manya, a pre-med student and newcomer to New York, is introduced to Alan, a Machiavellian masher, by her genially oblivious Uncle Gregory. At Alan's urging, Gregory leaves Manya at Alan's apartment -- and at his mercy. After a taut cat-and-mouse session, Manya is viciously raped.
In "Blood," the second act, set a year later, Manya exacts her slow, shudder-inducing revenge. One is left with the feeling that it's the ingenious revenge that is the real reason for this play's creation.
Though Kazan sketches his characters tersely -- they seem puppets in his calculated set-up -- the playwright does throw some light into dark corners, particularly in suggesting an unspoken complicity among men in treating women as sexual commodities. Alan is the kind of debased person who can't abide innocence in others: He finds Manya irritatingly unspoiled, an irresistible challenge. His "seduction" technique includes disillusioning Manya under the pretense of intimacy, shattering her idols, ideals and self- confidence.
As Manya, Laurel Lefkow is affecting: in the quiet strain in her voice as she prefaces the two acts with her confession, in showing the dizzying fear of being helpless in the hands of someone more powerful, in her cool control as she cunningly engineers her vengeance. As Alan, Seth Jones is appropriately creepy and egocentric, but his performance is overly mannered and stagy.
Making his directorial debut, Todd London smoothly builds the tension. The color red is a clever psychological keynote in Ron Olsen's compact set and Petricia Raabe's costumes.
The play is said to be based on a real incident, but Kazan reflects that event back in a distorting mirror. There are several lapses in logic, and the dialogue, particularly in Alan's narcissistic "insights," is sometimes self-conscious and stilted.
"Blood Moon" is riveting, and it's hard to deny its impact -- there's a collective gasp from the audience at the climactic moment. So Kazan's play is a success insofar as it produces its intended gut-level emotional response. But audiences may be left with mixed feelings about getting a punchline rather than a play. BLOOD MOON -- At Woolly Mammoth Theater (at the Church of the Epiphany), through February 16.