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Really Really

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

Really Really
Matt Lauria and Zosia Mamet.
Photo by Janna Giacoppo.

He says? She says? Who cares? With his new play Really Really, which MCC Theater just opened at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, Paul Downs Colaizzo strives to combine the ever-fertile territory of sexual politics with the good-old-fashioned mystery drama. But he errs too much on the side of the "old fashioned," with his characters' and our quest to learn what actually happened on one booze-fueled night forever taking a back seat to predictable and ham-fisted social commentary that makes the play more dusty than daring.

Not even director David Cromer, who helmed the brilliant 2009 revival of Our Town, can find many nuances to explore in this monochromatic mishmash. That's surprising, because some would seem a given in this story about a young college student named Leigh (Zosia Mamet) who accuses the school's star rugby player, Davis (Matt Lauria), of rape. And when it turns out that Davis was so drunk that night that he can't remember any of it, and Leigh's roommate Grace (Lauren Culpepper) expresses a very different recollection of Leigh's behavior, sizzles should be inevitable.

Colaizzo, however, tries far too hard to force them into specific configurations, rather than letting them settle organically into their proper positions. His overdone manipulations vitiate his premise, and in doing so abandon the key details in plot and characterization that should elevate it well above the "near miss" muck in which it's mired.

There are some tasty possibilities to be found on the men's side of the matter. Both Davis and his best friend, Jimmy (Evan Jonigkeit), come from incredibly wealthy families, with Jimmy's father on the board and practically running the school, but Davis is certain that his achievement-minded parents will never let him see a dime of their fortune. This means he's had to work hard for everything, which has drawn him closer to a poor black friend in similar but even more dire circumstances, Johnson (Kobi Libii), who's about ready to graduate himself, and has alienated him from his roommate, Cooper (David Hull), who's on a "six-year plan" made all the more curious by his utterly empty class load.

But once Jimmy hears about what might have happened between Davis and Leigh, the battle lines are drawn and Colaizzo ensures that no one ends up on Davis's side. Combined with the single-minded nastiness of Leigh, who's also willing to lie in any number of devastating ways to get the reluctant Jimmy to marry her, and Grace's mounting concern over her friend's veracity, the deck is stacked almost as soon as the cards are laid out. This makes for a frustrating and lopsided evening in which you're forced to sympathize with Jimmy, and hardly allowed the opportunity to see his experience from a balanced but opposing point of view.

Playwrights don't necessarily need to be even-handed, of course, but structuring all a play's tension around a question like this and then not even pretending to be interested in the resulting tug-of-war is an unusual (and unusually uninvolving) tactic. It's not helped by a tendency toward excess; Grace exists for the sole purpose of throwing ironic light on this group's status as the "Future Leaders of America," as the group is called to which she delivers one hyperextended monologue in each act, and Leigh's sister, Haley (Aleque Reid) just reinforces what we already know about her cruel sister and further advances the anti-Davis agenda.

Other things trouble as well. The whisper-thin motives we eventually discover behind everyone, which gently inflate their base personalities but do not elaborate on them, are not worth waiting for. The nearly wordless opening scene all but spells out the truth at the exact moment we need it least. And the final scene, in which Davis and Leigh finally confront each other on her home turf, stretches what little credibility the play still has well beyond the breaking point.

Stilted performances throughout don't help, either. I'm willing to give Lauria a pass for the one-dimensional whining that constitutes his entire portrayal, given that the character is written to accommodate nothing more. But Mamet could do more than furrow her brow and squint her eyes to convey Leigh's cunning, and were Hull and Jonigkeit to attempt to play more than one emotion at a time they might help anchor the production's periphery. Culpepper and Reid are adequate in their underwritten roles, but only Libii makes the detectable journey from trust to staunch self-preservation that represents the closest thing Really Really has to a point.

Though Cromer unlocks nothing surprising from the text, he has devised some compelling stage pictures in collaboration with set designer David Korins and lighting designer David Weiner. By constantly rearranging a handful of crucial set pieces (an arch, a door frame, a couch) to depict the play's few locales from a variety of perspectives, they underline the ostensibly elemental idea that reality is only and entirely what we make it. Cromer has directed a play worth seeing. But judging from what its characters say and do, the one Colaizzo wrote, which crows about uncertainty and shades of gray but deigns to show neither, does not seem to be it.


Really Really
Through March 10
Lucille Lortel Theater, 121 Christopher Street between Bleecker and Bedford Streets
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: ovationtix.com