Rape is a subject that dramatists did not tackle with much perception until the women's movement elevated the general consciousness. Two recent plays, first "Extremities" by William Mastrosimone, and now "Blood Moon" by Nicholas Kazan, which opened last week at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Co., have effectively used theater to make chilling comments on the subject.
It is interesting that both plays were authored by men. While "Extremities" illustrated a primarily physical response to the crime, "Blood Moon" presents a largely intellectual retribution. It is also one that is perhaps uniquely feminine, using cunning rather than strength in an extraordinary climax to a bizarre tale.
The playwright suggests that the story, or at least part of it, is based on a real experience. Manya, an exuberant and precocious 19-year-old, has been squired around New York by her doting uncle, Gregory, who introduces her to Alan, a handsome deal-maker who is the personification of urban decadence.
Alan, effectively played by Seth Jones, is clearly sinister and has intellectual justifications for his amoral and immoral deeds, even when they are as basic as having someone's legs broken. His occupation is obscure; he "arranges things," and has no qualms about leaving his wife and daughters in New Jersey while he cavorts in his New York pad with "blond bimbos." The apartment, equipped with a closed-circuit video system, is loaned to business associates for sexual escapades.
His debate with Manya, evil versus innocence, becomes a kind of twisted Noel Coward, brittle repartee that seems at times excessively sophisticated, an intellectual ping-pong match rather than a substantive debate. But Alan's cynicism makes him a plausible rapist, just as the uncle's bumbling affability leads him to be an unwitting accomplice.
The first act is skillfully constructed; verbal banter leads to coquettish dueling, and then Alan asserts his physical strength to overpower the terrified young woman. The second act takes place after a year in which Manya has suffered greatly. She takes her revenge calmly and deliberately, but not without doubt. Although she believes her vengeance is justified, she is aware that another person's violence has turned her into a person who is also capable of a heinous act.
Manya, as a character, is one of those overbred intellectuals who tend to analyze every moment of life, often at the expense of actually living it. Laurel Lefkow is particularly convincing as the innocent, pre-rape Manya, seeing the world through the eyes of an intelligent naif. Her second-act Manya, however, is more self-conscious, like a woman playing grown-up in high heels and lipstick. Timothy Rice, as her unprincipled but generous uncle, falters only near the end, when his comprehension of what has happened and his responsibility for it seem incompletely realized.
Kazan's play is provocative and intelligent, if at times more cerebral than visceral. Todd London's direction is taut and well-balanced, and the set, costumes, music and lighting are all adept. "Blood Moon" is a worthy addition to the literature on a most painful subject.
BLOOD MOON, by Nicholas Kazan; directed by Todd London; set by Ron Olsen; lights by John M. Connole; costumes by Petricia Raabe; with Seth Jones, Laurel Lefkow and Timothy Rice. At the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Co., through Feb. 16.