Years ago, Fresno State’s Brad Myers directed a production of “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” in December that overflowed with goodwill and holiday cheer.
“Really Really,” by Paul Downs Colaizzo, is not that kind of play.
Instead, for December’s slot in the Fresno State season, Myers picked a red-hot 2013 off-Broadway hit filled with strong language, sexual situations and an unflinching look at “Generation Me.” Consider it an alternative to the abundance of holiday fare this time of year.
We caught up with Myers via email to talk about the show.
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Q: What is the play about?
A: It begins the morning after a raucous party hosted by star athletes at an affluent university. During this rager, heartthrob Davis had a sexual encounter with his friend’s girlfriend, Leigh. Both Leigh and Davis hope to keep the hookup private, but as rumors spread, different accounts of what actually happened emerge. Ultimately, a scandal with potentially direful consequences erupts, and all of the characters are forced to choose who to believe in an effort to protect their own individual ambitions.
Q: What most attracted you to this script?
A: I was first drawn to the script by its compelling story. It has been a long time since I laughed so hard and gasped so deeply when I first read a play.The themes of the play (Generation Me, classism, attitudes toward sex on college campuses, etc.) are so relevant for a contemporary and university audience. And the cast consists of seven young adults, six of whom are college students, making the show well-suited to our Fresno State acting pool.
Q: What parallels can be drawn to the Duke University lacrosse scandal?
A: The scandal in “Really Really” has the potential to gain national attention, just like what happened with the Duke lacrosse incident. Classism is a major theme of the play, given Leigh is a student from a lower-class background, trying to survive and prosper at this rich-kids’ university. The Duke scandal was shaded in ambiguity for some time, as there were conflicting reports of what actually happened; such is the case with “Really Really.” Did the accused athletes at Duke victimize a lower-class local woman? Or was the accuser an opportunistic gold digger trying to scam these wealthy young men? Similar questions arise in “Really Really.”
Q: One of the characters, Grace, has a speech in the play where she addresses the theme of the Generation Me. What is her take?
A: Grace is speaking at a conference of the Future Leaders of America. She describes her generation as both selfish and invincible. She recognizes that the world facing Generation Me is not the world of opportunity as promised by their parents, but rather a world requiring strategies in order to achieve one’s dreams. Millennials’ secret weapon is the ability to answer one simple question: “What can I do to make this work? In any situation, what can I do to get what I want?”
Q: As someone who is, ahem, not a member of this generation (just like me), how do you approach directing material in which you’ll always be something of an outsider?
A: I actually feel like less of an outsider in approaching this play than I have for most other plays I have directed. As a university professor, I interact with members of Generation Me every day. I have found myself sometimes frustrated with students who don’t seem to share the same worldview as I had when I was their age. Directing and researching “Really Really” has enlightened me, and I have a much better understanding and appreciation for millennials as they confront social and cultural evolutions that were not a part of my college years. Of course, directing this play has been easier than others because I have a cast who totally gets these characters. Much of the the time I’ve just had to stay out of their way.
Q: From talking with your student actors, how successful is playwright Paul Downs Colaizzo in capturing the essence of this generation?
A: When we announced that we were considering “Really Really,” the teacher of last spring’s course in Dramatic Lit. included the play in his course content. The students were wildly enthusiastic about the script, and the professor opted to devote extra class sessions to discussing the play. That fervor carried over into the auditions and rehearsals. “Really Really” is a great vehicle for opening up dialogue within and between the generations.
Q: One of the things the play explores is morality. In this generation, “How I feel” is an important component of making decisions. What is your take on this?
A: The play was partially prompted by an extensive study of millennials, which was published in a book called “Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled – and More Miserable Than Ever Before,” by Jean M. Twenge. Part of the author’s study addresses the issues of morality and religion. She concludes that Generation Me is not so morally defined by the rules of right and wrong that were handed down to them by their parents. Rather, their sense of morality is determined more by how one feels. This accounts for more liberal thinking toward socially controversial issues such as abortion and gay rights. This can also lead to espousing a certain established religion, but cherry-picking the parts of that religious practice which feel right. Additionally, it becomes very evident that the characters in “Really Really” are making decisions steered more by opportunism than by right or wrong, justice or truth.
Q: Tell me a little about your cast and the design concept for the production.
A: The cast includes some University Theatre familiar faces such as Aubrianne Scott (who has played leading roles in “Cabaret,” “Our Town,” and “Wonder of the World”), Joel Young (who played the title role in last Spring’s “Playboy of the Western World”), and Matthew Parson (who is having quite a semester having recently starred in “Yellow Man”). Also included are talented actors who are making their University Theatre debut, including Emily Kearns, Samantha Rodriguez, Darrius Mehring-Ford and Patrick Regal. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the understudies have been extraordinary in their devotion to this production.
Certain plays require a heavier concept than others. When talking with designers, I asked that we all just mine the text for the multitudinous clues, and to serve the themes of the play. We are striving for character-specific, story-specific realism.
Q: Anything else you’d like to say?
A: We jokingly refer to “Really Really” as our Christmas show, given it is the alternative to family-friendly theater that dominates the season. Strong language, sexual situations, and other elements make the play inappropriate for children. The play is honest in its political-incorrectness. This play is not a melodrama with clearly defined good people and bad people. Instead, all of the characters have merit; all of the characters are flawed. “Really Really” avoids simplistic judgments on its characters and subject matter – making it more entertaining, more insightful and more thought-provoking.
- 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 4, Saturday, Dec. 5, and Dec. 8-12; 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 6
- Fresno State John Wright Theatre
- www.fresnostate.edu/theatrearts, 559-278-2216
- $17, $10 students