Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
Amber (Arielle Siegel) is white, Jewish, bright-eyed, and a talker. Tom (Ronald Emile) is African American, attractive, and one infers that his journey has not been easy. He is accused of rape by Amber who very much likes Tom. She did take some initiative, has wondered and spun fantasies about him. Amber feels that she ultimately was forced.
Jean Kim, designing the show for TheaterWorks, places the actors, given a rectangular space, facing forward toward the audience on a tiered stage. At times, each performer moves to one side and sits. During the early going, they speak while in silhouette as blue hues of light form a backdrop. During these sequences, director Taneisha Duggan has elected to have music (with a deep bass) playing, too. The sound cuts into the dialogue and, thankfully, is limited. Otherwise, it would distract and detract from exemplary delivery by two fine actors.
Ziegler's script raises questions about gender, race and class. Her writing is nuanced and she creates characters who are decent yet flawed. They are actually (that word again) human. Amber realizes she is at Princeton, in part, because she was, coming from what is considered a respectable background, a very average squash player. She's funny and self-aware.
Tom is a gifted pianist and he feels a debt to the teacher who matched him with the instrument. He does not think Amber is the sexiest girl he's seen but acknowledges that she does appeal to him. Tom is worried that the color of his skin will undo him. Her persona grows on him until he wants more than casual friendship.
Ronald Emile plays Tom as appealing but not overly polished. It comes as no surprise that Tom did not grow up with financial support. He is confident with women; it seems that he's had his share of girlfriends. Arielle Siegel, as Amber, tends to chatter. She's a bit nerved-out and speaks mostly to the audience before her. These two hardly knew one another before everything happened. Amber confesses that she was drunk on the evening in question. She is one to say yes to people, like closest friends and parents. She does feel (and Siegel wears the emotions on her face) the influence of the people she knows well and/or respects. Amber is not absolutely, completely certain that what she says she is claiming is solid truth. Call her ambiguous. She acknowledges that she is an imperfect individual.
Compared with Amber, whose insecurity is obvious, Tom puts on a self-assured face. He believes that what occurred did happen within the context of consent. Each is credible and each seems to be reasonable. After all, they are, what, 18 or so years of age? Now, there's testimony before a Princeton panel from these two young people who have barely begun college. It is not a stretch to feel sympathetic toward both both.
The world premiere at Williamstown Theatre Festival in 2017 was enthralling, and so is the TheaterWorks production. Directors make different choices and it would be unfair to rate either of these presentations as superior to the other. Actors in Hartford have different looks than those in Williamstown. The dialogue is the same, but pacing and timing are unique to each production.
Ziegler tackles the issue at hand by probing and balancing a heavy theme with occasional comedy. Actually drives at the "she said/he said" sequencing from the start. What follows is a piercing 90-minute two-hander.
Actually, through June 23, 2019, by TheaterWorks, at the Wadsworth Atheneum, 600 Main St., Hartford CT. For tickets, call (860) 527-7838 or visit twhartford.org.