Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
Although Extremities hasn't lost its power to shock an audience and make it squirm, the polemic that wraps itself around the play's conceit has evolved over the last thirty-six years from an isolated "what if" construct serving to raise consciousness and provoke outrage to present-day "Me Too" ubiquity. The whole country is now engaged in a long-needed conversation about finally believing women's stories when they speak of what has happened to them, giving them the space to tell those stories, and ultimately giving them justice. Coincidentally, the day before I saw this excellent Adobe Rose Theatre revival, I watched Harvey Weinstein turning himself in to New York authorities on TVhis alleged crimes catalytic for a groundswell movement that even Mastrosimone probably wouldn't have predicted. Incidentally, the playwright, in communication with this production's skillful director Melissa Chambers, nixed her decision to set her production around the time of the play's creation, 1982, through removing his arguably ham-handed attempts at modernizing the narrative, presumably to give it "Me Too" relevance. It's a difficult circle to square, since the dialogue still speaks in a 1980s voice. What Ms. Chambers wanted to say is that all this didn't just start with Harvey Weinstein. Women being victimized by men has been going on since the beginning of time.
The play concerns a young woman named Marjorie, who is assaulted by a man who saunters into the house she shares with her roommates Terry (a female) and Patricia. Her roomies are off at work and so she must deal with Raul's sinister designs all alone. She gets the upper hand, however, after being psychologically and physically brutalized almost to the point of rape, and the remainder of the play deals with how she presents, to her two roommates, the consequences of her desire to fight back and then to avenge her attacker. Both the emotionally vacuous Terry and the overly analytical Patricia swing from seeing Marjorie as victim to finding in her many of the same troubling traits possessed by her severely psychologically damaged assailant. Suddenly, Marjorie is the one on trial.
Mariah Oleson, as Marjorie, deftly clears the dramaturgical hurdle of keeping the audience in her camp while exercising a revenge-driven brutality toward the man she calls "animal," which, in the hands of a less sympathetic actress, would undermine the argument she makes for fighting for herself within a society that will more than likely let Raul go free, without proof of rape. The possibility that his release will send him back to her doorstep is a chilling prospect that she works hard to convince her roommates to respect.
As Terry, the self-absorbed resident airhead, Marianna Gallegos ably delivers some of the play's funniest lines (though there aren't, by design, all that many). Nicole Bartlett's Patricia is frustratingly cerebral and by-the-book in her approach to this problemthe perfect foil for the overly wrought Marjorie and the disengaged Terry.
As Raul, Koppany Pusztai allows this reviewer his first chance to use the phrase tour de force. His performance is just that: over-the-top film noir villain scaled down to the personification of pure human misery, with that Greek-tragic Oedipal blinding thing thrown in for good measure. A side note: Pusztai should think about teaching an acting master class in how to wheeze on command. As an asthmatic, I can say that his throat rasps were unnervingly realistic.
Director Chambers has done a great job with a play that made an early point of finding the conduit between female victimhood and female empowerment. The places where it creaks are more than redeemed by the relevance of its message, which speaks volumes in our time.
Kudos to the show's flight coordinator Ambrose Ferber for bringing believability to the very physical interactions between Oleson and Pusztai. The show's design elements serve the play without bringing too much attention to themselves, although Gene Mederos's seta house that is supposedly being renovatedstill could look a bit more "finished." I liked the sound of buzzing in Steffan Garcia's sound design, which he uses as audio bridges between scenes, in keeping with the idea that each character is in some way stung by their circumstances and by each other; and Dylan Norman's lighting is creepily dark and muted.
It's an interesting experience seeing a play that feels old and new at the same time. The story sags a little, either from the dated feel of its 1982 script or from attempts by the playwright to upgrade its story that feel off the mark, but the bones of this play are good, and it's certainly a good vehicle for this talented cast and for the imaginative crew members who work alongside them. Please feel free to come and gasp and squirm to your heart's content!
Extremities, through June 10, 2018, at the Adobe Rose Theatre, 1213B Parkway Drive, Santa Fe NM. Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 7:30, Sundays at 3:00. Info at www.adoberosetheatre.org or 505-629-8688. The running time, with intermission is about an hour and forty-five minutes.