How is it that a violent crime can be universally condemned and yet provoke ugly suspicions and even uglier debate? How is it that the acknowledged victim is all too often doubted, shamed, and shunned — misery piling onto misfortune — to the point where the crime itself remains stubbornly under-reported and its perpetrators often go entirely unpunished? Why is it that the covenant of civil society comes unglued the moment our animal natures reveal themselves as they seem to do when cases of rape, sexual abuse, and predation do make it into the justice system?
In Footlight Players production of Extremities, playwright William Mastrosimone confronts us with these questions as a desperate chase for truth and justice unfolds, one that, as in real life, almost seems doomed from the start.
The fast-paced two-act play begins with the attempted rape of Marjorie (Naomi Doddington) at her home in the rural fringes of New Jersey. Meeting violence with violence, Marjorie overpowers her would-be rapist Raul (Jared Rice). Thereafter he spends most of the play bruised, bloodied, and blindfolded with a noose around his neck, hog-tied and chained in the house's fireplace. And that's the tableau that meets Marjorie's roommates as they return home from work.
Terry (Victoria Vaughn), the first of Marjorie's roommates to get home, wants to call the cops. "It's an attempted rape," she argues, but Marjorie fires back with the central conflict of the play: "Prove it! You can't. Then they'll let him go and he'll come back." Marjorie's solution: "Help me make him disappear." She wants to bury him in their backyard. Mastrosimone gives none of his characters an easy out.
Extremities sometimes feels like a courtroom drama as each character considers the consequences of their situation when — and if — it finally enters and faces the justice system. None of the "what if" scenarios are reassuring or pretty.
Even level-headed Patricia (Sara Coy), trying to analyze the situation and pull Marjorie back from the brink of murder confesses, "I have isolated what the problem is. I don't know what to do."
It's hard to imagine what is more brutal here: the facts of the matter or how they're likely to be twisted by the defense and the prosecution. The playwright takes us straight into the unnerving reality of what "he said, she said" really means for those involved. The end game, it appears, is one no one can win. The machinery of justice itself becomes the greatest enemy as each character faces an agonizing choice.
What's exciting about Footlight's production is the level of naturalism the cast achieves. Doddington's Marjorie and Rice's Raul, with the weight of the drama largely on their shoulders, grab hold of the stage with high energy and unforced credibility. The script is almost too generous with their characters. Doddington and Rice make the most of those opportunities.
Marjorie's roommates (and possible co-defendants) Patricia and Terry act as the brakes that keep further madness from taking hold. Vaughn's Terry comes across as both steadfastly trusting of anonymous institutions like the justice system but more than a little paranoid about the roommates she knows well. For her part, Coy's arch rendering of Patricia even manages to draw some laughs in what is mostly a deadly serious, if completely surreal, situation. How would you react if you came home and your roommate had someone beaten up and bound in your fireplace?
Mastrosimone clearly has an agenda with this play and it might easily have suffered under that weight if it weren't for the realism of its dialogue. Director Kristen Kos keeps the drama intensely focused, and her cast maintains the taut pace demanded of them with the ferocity of an adrenaline rush. This alone is worth the price of admission. But the center of this drama is a dare to the theater goer. A "you can't handle the truth" sort of dare. Because when all's said and done, Extremities doesn't feel like a play. It feels like a crime scene. Kudos to Footlights for this one.