Here’s the thing about sexual assault, it’s a really hard thing for male writers to write about without seeming like the worst human beings on the planet. Because, and of course this is a generalization and we all know about the exceptions, but, for the most part, outside of the prison system, heterosexual men are rarely the victims of sexual assault. Women don’t rape each other. Women don’t rape men. Moreover, women feel obligated by the constraints of the patriarchy, by everything we are every taught, by every rule dictating female behavior, to acquiesce. To take the blame. To consider how we may have “tempted” or “provoked” or simply existed in the direction of a man. Sex has long been something that is considered an activity that men want and women tolerate, and that attitude, as antiquated as it is, still dictates much of contemporary behavior And if you can’t be raped, how can you understand rape? If sexual assault isn’t literal for you as a fear and concern in your life, how can it really seem significant? And that’s the underlying issue in Paul Downs Colaizzo’s funny but flawed Really Really, directed by David Cromer, now playing at MCC Theater.
When Grace (Lauren Culpepper) and Leigh (Zosia Mamet) return home one night from a party, they stumble drunkenly into their apartment, laughing hysterically at the sheer act of intoxication. But it quickly becomes clear to the audience that this is no mere homecoming. For one thing, Grace’s hand is covering in blood and it still has glass embedded in it. For another thing, these girls seem beyond wasted, they are in the land of incomprehension. Still, we’ve all had nights like that in college, and so when it turns out that there was a rager the evening before, thrown by some jocky frat boys, whose sport and greek letters are never really dealt with, it all makes sense. But what really happened at that party? That question is the subject of the entire play, and it becomes more important than any drunken attendee ever thought possible.
In the wake of this wild soiree of questionable decisions, frat boy Davis (a decent Matt Lauria) wakes up to a destroyed house and a lot of fuzzy memories. His buddies, the straight-laced Johnson (an excellent and wonderfully timed Kobi Libii) and the raunchy Cooper ( the talented David Hull, who stays shirtless a lot of the show, much to the delight of most of the female population of the audience), are dying to know what happened the night before, but Davis seems reticent to share his tales from between the sheets. And with good reason, too. It seems that Davis and Leigh have made the beast with two backs, and the assumption is that this isn’t going to go over all that well with Jimmy (a perfectly pitched Evan Jonigkeit) Leigh’s boyfriend and Davis’ teammate. But what really happened that night? Did Leigh want to have sex with Davis? Did Davis want to have sex with Leigh? Who can trust in this world of intoxicated emotions and juvenile deceptions? And, more to the point, does anyone really care?
As information is revealed and clouds the information previously received, these hung over young people try to find a way to construct their futures. With the arrival of Leigh’s ambitious and back-woodsy sister Haley ( Aleque Reid), Leigh finds herself in the position of defending her assertion that Davis’ raped her and caused her to lose a (faked) pregnancy against her friends, her family, and the world at large. As Grace delivers clever if clunky speeches about “generation me” at a Future Leaders of America conference, rumors swirls around this unnamed college campus and accusations are hurled at the speed of a tweet, reaching everyone before they’ve had a change to really be thought out, or heard. Leigh, a compelling and subdued Mamet who walks through the play with a numbness that is appropriate but hard to connect with, seems to be playing the long game. Because there is so much information, or misinformation, being bandied about, one never knows if one can trust anyone, especially Leigh. But when you make a story about sexual violence and call into question the veracity of the victim, that is a bit, um, what is the word, vomit-inducing? Because as a rule, women don’t tend to lie about rape. Or pregnancy, for that matter. So if you want to put the victim of a rape situation in the position of the aggressor, you better have a damn good reason. And Colaizzo, well, just doesn’t seem to have one at all.
The whole key to this story seems to rest on an unseen character, Natalie, Davis’ former girlfriend, whose fragile ghost seems to haunt this piece as a tenuous explanation for a lot of bad behavior For example, Davis is willing to have sex with Leigh, despite their mutual commitment to Jimmy, because he’s desperate to exorcise his ex, Natalie, from his system. And Leigh is willing to let Davis rape her (which is a plot point that can’t help but raise the hackles of even the least feminist audience member) because she knows, from Natalie, that Davis gets violent during sex, and she knows she can use this to secure her financial future. Which, you know, is totally something women do, provoke men into raping them for some cash. That’s a real thing that happens. All the time. But the problem then is, if Natalie is so important, so vital to this story, why don’t we ever meet her? And if we don’t meet her, why don’t we know that she is significant until the final moments of the play? Why do we spend so much time with characters who don’t seem to matter, really, if this unseen Natalie is actually the hinge upon which all this rests?
Part of the issue with this may be that despite the plethora of people who Colaizzo has put on the stage, all neatly directed by Cromer, most of these characters all speak with what is basically the same voice. They all have the same snappy quippy sense of humor, they all seem equally intelligent, they all seem, well, exactly the same. The vocal homogeny of the play is almost overwhelming. Everyone’s humor is the same, with Culpepper’s supremely well handled Grace as the forerunner in pop-culture meets academia style speak, with her pumps and clashing prints (courtesy of Sarah Laux’s spot on costume design) and snippy sharp one liners all delivered with a breathless mania. But because everyone is just like everyone else, even the “outsider”, Haley ( Reid’s annoying performance adds little to this already acerbic character) seems to be just as well off as all these other privileged people, and I couldn’t tell you for the life of me where the hell this is supposed to be happening. Vague references to “Christian Therapy” come and go, leaving on the impression that this is somewhere conservative, somewhere in the south or middle of this huge country of ours, but honestly, nothing else exists in the world of the play to clue its audience in on where this is all going on.
So when the play ends, amid ambiguous rape accusations and an anvil-sized point about getting what you really want at any cost and then realizing it wasn’t worth it (which…welcome to adulthood) one must wonder what the take-home message is in such a story. In a play obsessed with T.V. style buttons (each scene ends with a “scene ending line”, punctuated by a lengthy set change, courtesy of David Korins clever-but-tedious-to-watch set design, David Weiner’s neat lighting and Daniel Kluger’s excellent sound) at the end of the piece, the audience is left blinking in the wake of this ambiguous and odd story. But as Colaizzo writes, “You can’t get what you want until you know what you want”. So what I personally would like is a play that values human emotion over banter and sensation. Because what Really Really leaves its audience with is the feeling that of course what you want at the age of 21 isn’t worth what you do to get it. But if you didn’t know that already, you’ve really really got some deeper issues at work there.