Actress Katherine Prout is nursing a banged-up knee, holding an ice pack to the sore area that will soon add bruise number 10, or maybe it's number 11, to her slender, 5-foot-3-inch frame. It is a typical post-rehearsal ritual for Prout, the female lead in "Extremities," the controversial drama from playwright William Mastrosimone that Accokeek's Hard Bargain Players are opening tomorrow night.
Prout plays Marjorie, a young woman who turns the tables on a would-be rapist in what some describe as a play about female empowerment and others deride as an exercise in revenge and sensationalism. For Prout, who says it is a play about survival, and the rest of the small cast and crew, the 25-year old play is a remarkably challenging experience.
"The show reaches people on a very deep level and, hopefully, it will open audience eyes to the kind of violence that goes on all the time," Prout said. "More than Marjorie just having some sort of vengeful bloodlust, I think it's more about her trying to find justice when she doesn't get any. She can't find help through the system, she can't find help with her friends and roommates, so she's left to take matters into her own hands."
"Extremities" begins with the graphic brutalization, both physical and psychological, of a young woman in her own home. But she reverses the balance of power, imprisons her attacker, played by Brian Donohue, and then weighs her options. Can she rely on the system of justice, or should she mete out brutal punishment on her own? And what price would that exact on her? "The intensity level is unbelievable," Prout added. "I knew it would be difficult when I took the part, but I had no idea how exhausting it would be."
"We've had to be really careful about getting the emotion levels up and then back down because it's really hard, especially for Brian and Katie, because they have to go through some pretty strenuous physical stuff, as well as emotional strains onstage," said director Janet Zavistovich. "After every rehearsal we try to talk each other down and laugh and joke on our way out, and that helps."
The director has been trying to calibrate energy levels as final rehearsals give way to opening night, so the cast of four doesn't either burn out from, or get used to, the emotions they generate onstage. It is painstaking and exacting work, particularly the extensive scenes of physical violence coordinated by fight choreographer Alex Zavistovich, the director's husband. Donahue is significantly larger than Prout, who has to use all her strength to fight him off. Hence, the many bruises from what she calls theatrical "boot camp."
For Donohue, the initial challenge is to avoid hurting Prout. Later, as the intruder is tied up and blindfolded, the actor has to convey character and emotions without being able to use most of the tools an actor usually has.
"I think we all have dark parts inside of us and you try to go to that place for a role like this," the affable actor explained after a late-night rehearsal at the outdoor amphitheatre at Hard Bargain Farm, the Players' home. "It's not always a lot of fun and I certainly can't imagine doing the kind of things this guy does. So for me, it's a matter of trying to understand how somebody could do things like that."
The bucolic, serene setting of the amphitheater in the woods presents an extra challenge for director Zavistovich, who has had to experiment with music and other effects to help create and sustain the proper ambiance of dramatic intensity, fear and dread. She, Donohue, and Prout each said the subject matter has crept into their consciousness, leading Donohue to chuckle that he's glad he's not a method actor who psychologically internalizes a role.
But, Prout admitted, "I've been checking my door a few extra times at night, making sure it's locked." It's worth it, she said, if the play helps spread awareness of violence against women, particularly when the victim is so often viewed with suspicion.
"Extremities" will be performed at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays from tomorrow to Oct. 8 at the Amphitheatre at Hard Bargain Farm, 2001 Bryan Point Road, Accokeek. For reservations, call 301-392-9901 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. For information, visit www.hbplayers.org.