Karen Allen, known to some as a star actress for her performances in such movies as Raiders of the Lost Ark and Animal House, directs with uncommon knowledge. During the 1983 Off-Broadway run of the show, she carried the lead. Her staging of the current presentation, with an assist from Fight Choreographer Lisa Kopitsky, is precise.
Marjorie (Molly Camp) lives somewhere north of New York City and on a given, pleasant day, she moves about her house easily and casually. A man opens the screen door and walks into the living room. Raul (James McMenamin) asks for Joe but finds that no Joe lives there. He leaves and shortly thereafter returns to force himself upon a frantic, shrieking Marjorie. She will later refer to him as Animal and the title could not be more appropriate.
The Unicorn is a comfortable theater which affords every patron a fine view. The first 30 or so minutes of Extremities could not, could not ever be less comforting. Animal's violent assault upon Marjorie is impossibly agitating and performed with heightened and authentic intensity. Marjorie, terrified for her life, flails while Animal (pinning her down) savagely insists that she obey his commands.
She manages to "escape," ties him up, and wedges him securely within the confines of a fireplace. The BTG production utilizes blackouts as devices to fuel the plot.
Terry (Kelly McCreary), one of Marjorie's housemates, returns. Terry (whose past helps define her character) vacillates, uncertain whether to support her friend or report the incident. The final woman to appear is Patricia (Miriam Silverman), a social worker-type, who sees the situation as resolvable through court proceedings. During the final 40 minutes of the performance, which occur after intermission, Pat and, to an extent, Terry lobby for a rational strategizing. The shackled Animal, discerning that he might indeed have allies, speaks without conscience and truth.
All of this further infuriates Marjorie. Throughout, predictably shattered through the trauma of rampage by one who has raped previously and who is a despicable individual, she wishes him dead and, moreover, seeks to expedite his demise. She might have died and, now, she desires nothing lesser for him.
McMenamin succeeds with a disciplined performance as hateful Raul, who tries for redemption but never cuts a sympathetic character. McCreary and Silverman, as the other and quite pivotal residents of the cottage, are impressive. That leaves Molly Camp's performance as Marjorie. Let's put it this way: she should receive a significant award. It takes energy, emotional fortitude, physical stamina, fire and courage to take this on night after night. Karen Allen, by choice, revisits what was once, decades ago on a New York stage, familiar territory. Her direction is powerful.
John McDermott's design for the cottage assists: It includes a wall rotary phone (which Animal disengages), a small rear kitchen, old bed and television, and stairway leading upward. David Murin's costumes help categorize each of the cast members. Marjorie, for example, first appears in a light, easy house dress. Later, she changes. Her friends, each returning from work, wear business attire. Raul/Animal's clothing covers him.
Soon after Raul appears, the high pitch of this production infects the theater and those observing. The questions Extremities raises are urgently relevant and real in America in 2013. It is important to recall that the Steubenville rape trial occurred just a few months ago. Fewer women are raped now (when figures are compared) than in 1980 when Mastrosimone wrote this play. Many victims, however, are still too frightened and/or reluctant to report the crime.
Extremities calls another question: does one who has been assaulted but not literally raped, have a case? And, the follow-up: Whose word is to be believed?
Commendations to all associated with the production, one which I will not forget.
Extremities continues at the Unicorn Theater as part of Berkshire Theatre Group's summer season in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, through July 27. For tickets, call (413) 997-4444 or visit www.berkshiretheatregroup.org.
- Fred Sokol