They find a tooth on the floor.
There are many criteria with which to judge the success of a raging “kegger” party thrown by a group of upscale college jocks, but it’s hard to top a morning-after discovery that one of the guests left behind an incisor used in lieu of a bottle opener. In normal circumstances, such an anecdote would become the stuff of campus legend.
In Paul Downs Colaizzo’s provocative play, “Really Really,” given a powerful production by Fresno State’s theater department, a more ominous development overwhelms the “great party” narrative, however.
At some point in the evening, a woman and a man went into a bedroom. Only they know what really happened next. She says she was raped. He says he was too drunk to remember. As the audience absorbs both accounts and learns more about these two characters, there’s enough ambiguity in Colaizzo’s script and Brad Myers’ impeccable naturalistic direction to keep everyone guessing.
There’s a ripped-from-the-headlines feel in this vigorously contemporary 2012 play, with the Duke University lacrosse scandal (and the more recent Rolling Stone magazine vs. University of Virginia controversy) coming to mind. But Colaizzo has a far more sophisticated take on the material than, say, an easily resolved “Law and Order” episode. The “she said, he said” angle is a central part of the play, but this is no mere crime drama.
Instead, Colaizzo uses the alleged rape almost like an archeological event as he excavates the “Me Generation,” digging into the hopes, dreams, strengths and foibles of a group of young people as they grapple with a challenging future.
The play opens with students Leigh (Aubrianne Scott) and Grace (Samantha Rodriguez), both drunk, stumbling into their apartment after the party. Grace’s hand is bleeding after falling on broken glass. Leigh isn’t obviously injured, but it’s clear she is troubled.
Playwright Paul Downs Colaizzo uses the alleged rape almost like an archeological event as he excavates the ‘Me Generation,’ digging into the hopes, dreams, strengths and foibles of a group of young people as they grapple with a challenging future.
The scene soon shifts to the home where the party took place – shared by college teammates Davis (Joel Young), who hooked up with Leigh in his bedroom, and Cooper (Darrius Mehring-Ford) – where a typical morning-after hangover unfolds. (Jeff Hunter’s side-by-side settings and Liz Waldman’s crisp lighting design perfectly delineate the action.) Nothing out of the ordinary: just cramming for midterms.
Then the story begins to spill out as we pop back and forth between settings and as we meet Leigh’s boyfriend, Jimmy (Patrick Regal), a teammate of Davis and Cooper’s who was out of town for the party.
Was Leigh’s interaction with Davis consensual or not?
Intriguing themes thread throughout the storyline. A big one has to do with class: Leigh comes from a troubled childhood and a lower socioeconomic status than her classmates, a fact solidified when her meddling sister, Haley (a standout Emily Kearns) pops up to revel in the crisis. Leigh’s boyfriend, meanwhile, comes from money, with a father on the university’s board. Davis, too, is “rich and white,” which he points out would be a disadvantage in a rape case.
Generational angst is another theme, with the over-achieving Grace elaborating on the challenges facing those among her age group. (Colaizzo’s conceit of having Grace address a “young leaders conference” is the one aspect of the script that seems a little too easy and stilted.) The important thing, she tells her audience, is think of yourself. Do what you have to, she says, to get a big enough bite of society’s pie.
Myers coaxes strong performances from his cast. Scott, as Leigh, gives us a textured and ambiguous portrayal, never allowing her character to emerge as too sympathetic or devious. Young is also particularly fine, ranging from little-boy-scared to brute. Another standout is Matthew Parson as Johnson, a fellow teammate so uptight about success that to him morality and friendship is like a logarithm.
The design of the show is first-rate, from Elizabeth Payne’s contemporary costumes to Kyle Jensen’s excellent sound design.
“Really Really” is not a couple of important things: It is not a family-friendly show (there’s plenty of explicit language and themes); and it is not a holiday-themed show, despite the December time slot. Nor will it appeal to audiences looking for an easy resolution or glib assurances about the potential of youth.
“I’m just doing what I have to do,” one character says. In terms of assessing a generation, this play puts some teeth into it.
- 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 9-Saturday, Dec. 12
- Fresno State John Wright Theatre
- www.fresnostate.edu/theatrearts, 559-278-2216
- $17, $10 students