Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires

Actually
Williamstown Theatre Festival
Review by Fred Sokol | Season Schedule

Also see Fred's reviews of This and Oklahoma!


Joshua Boone and Alexandra Socha
Photo by Daniel Rader
Actually, closing out the season on the Nikos Stage as part of the Williamstown Theatre Festival, is an exceptional two-hander. The co-world premiere (with the Los Angeles-based Geffen Playhouse) is scripted by Anna Ziegler, a young woman who is a deft dialogue writer. Lileana Blain-Cruz directs this complicated moment-to-moment drama which continues through August 20th. The production is separate from the one which occurred at the Geffen.

Just a few months into their freshman year at Princeton, Tom (Joshua Boone) either raped Amber (Alexandra Socha), as she contests, or, according to him, the sex was consensual. They were drinking and  ... Barely out of high school, Amber is white, Jewish, extremely talky, cute, self-deprecating and, given Socha's delectable performance, very funny. A handsome black man, Tom gets news that his mother has cancer and he is having issues with a good (male) friend at Princeton. He is totally aware of his race. Tom, at first, finds Amber mousy looking, but her eyes catch him. It isn't any tough task to enjoy and like both of these characters. Tom is clearly not villainous and Amber has immediate appeal—for most anyone observing and listening.

Adam Rigg's set is basic: two red chairs in front of what appears to be wood paneling. Ben Stanton's lighting is key since the shifts mark differences in time. Most often, the protagonists speak directly to the audience, whether it be in flashback or as and after Amber makes her claim. It is not until well into the show that they turn toward one another for more than passing words.

Amber, who probably gets the better lines from playwright Ziegler, hasn't much experience when it comes to sex, while Tom does not fit that profile when it comes to women. She gently, cleverly mocks herself (worried, for example, that she had a bit too much ice cream) and comments that blacks and Jews have in common "not really wanting to go camping." Tom, at first, thought he was meeting up with another and, to him, hotter woman, but Amber's persona is pretty enticing to him. Ultimately, Amber is not certain that Tom really did see "my body and my soul."

Actually concludes with this question for everyone to ponder: "Who goes first?" End of play.

This work is not heavy-handed, melodramatic stuff; instead, it is extraordinarily realistic. We learn of the characters' families, about insecurities, how each sees him or herself. Amber admits she somehow landed at Princeton because, in part, she was an average squash player. She feels that Tom might have been admitted since he's African-American.

It would not be accurate to call this seat-squirming theater, but the very natural performances bid theatergoers to consider, to contemplate. Staging the show at a theater on the Williams College campus isn't a far figurative leap from New Jersey's Princeton University. The actors evidently took at trip to Princeton to develop an authentic feel for place.

Socha, who has appeared on and off Broadway, plays Amber as a sweet, naive girl who has been hurt. The actress is physically expressive, often speaking with her hands. She takes a number of different positions on her seat. Boone is also a veteran of the New York City stage and his Tom is friendly and attractive. He knows that he and Amber have not totally been at odds with what was initially happening. Blain-Cruz gives these actors space to create. The director, fortunate to be working with a sharp script and insightful actors, helps to fuel this 90-minute piece. It's all terrifically absorbing.

Actually continues at the Nikos Stage as part of the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Williamstown, Massachusetts, through August 20th, 2017. For tickets, call (413) 458-3253 or visit www.wtfestival.org.


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