The Rape of the Sabine Women by Grace B. Matthias: A Dark Comedy About R. A. P. E. Culture.
By Ross for frontmezzjunkies.com
Leave it up to the wonderful Playwrights Realm to give us another sensational production that reminds us all what theatre is meant to be. They rocked our world with Sarah DeLappe’s Pulitzer-prize finalist play, The Wolves last fall (returning this fall to the Lincoln Center Theater), and I found myself eager to see what else they had in store for us. So it was no surprise that upon entering the Duke Theatre on 42nd St. that we would encounter something special. The staging by set designer Arnulfo Maldonado doesn’t look like anything one might envision from a play titled, The Rape of the Sabine Women by Grace B. Matthias. I’m not sure what I expected as I tried to limit all pre-show information, but the perfect setting that the design team created (lighting: Barbara Samuels; costumes: Asta Bennie Hostetter; sound: Mikaal Sulaiman) was unexpected. The title itself also gave us pause since the playwright is actually Michael Yates Crowley (NYTW and Ars Nova’s School Shooting IV), a brave soul who has written a wickedly dark comedy about the culture of rape in America. I have to say that tackling such a subject takes some guts, as comedy isn’t necessarily the first genre that jumps to mind, but after Crowley started following the Steubenville Ohio rape case in the media, he was inspired to try. And we are thankful he did.
But who is this Grace B. Matthias who is given author credit within the title? I’d love to tell you all what the title refers to, as I’m thrilled and excited by what I just witnessed, but I’m not going to. I feel especially excited after a summer of productions that were underwhelming to say the least (not all mind you -I loved A Parallelogram, Hamlet at the Public, the PTP/NYC productions, and the Soulpepper season at Signature, but the majority were mediocre to full out terrible). I find myself jubilant that I can write a rave review as I’ve been itching to be blown away. But I also find myself perplexed as well. How will I talk about this brilliant production that won’t ruin any of the surprises and sap the adrenaline away from a first viewing? The more I tell you about what I just saw, the more a disservice it will be, so here goes. Wish me luck, as I attempt to tell you how powerful and hilarious The Rape of the Sabine Women, By Grace B. Matthias is, and not spoil any of the hundreds of shockingly relevant, emotional, and funny twists that are so expertly tossed in our direction. Fingers crossed.
It all starts with a young 15 year-old who has been raped. Her name is Grace, played with a wide-eyed brilliance by Susannah Perkins (The Wolves). She gives a standing ovation performance full of intelligence and bravery that is a must-see. In the aftermath of the incident, fellow school mate and football player Jeff, played by the very intriguing Doug Harris (Here’s We Are Animals) and fellow team member, Bobby, portrayed by the excellent Alex Breaux (NYTW’s Red Speedo) face indictment over the incident. Bobby has a few secrets of his own, and some demons to work out, as he lashes out at Grace with name-calling and abuse, but it’s Jeff with the more intricate game here. His awkward affection towards Grace is blended perfectly with his inability to interact socially. He’s a not-so-cool ride in the form of a much admired quarterback, a mythical god-like persona in American high schools.
The high school is turned sideways by the accusation, and Grace finds that she must contend with a series of chaotic entanglements. One is with an over-zealous lawyer played by Jeff Biehl (Roundabout’s Machinal) who wants to focus attention on her victimhood. Also there is an over-whelmed high school guidance counselor, played by Eva Kaminsky (Broadway’s The Lyons) who has trouble with complicated emotions, Grace’s unseen absentee parents, and a community that would prefer the incident be forgotten so they may continue blindly supporting their favorite football team. Add to that a supportive but combative best friend, Monica, played impressively by Jeena Yi (CSC’s Comedy of Errors), a teacher, hilariously played by Andy Lucien (PH’s The Qualms) struggling to educate and stay out of trouble, and a News Anchorman, portrayed by Chas Carey (3LD’s Righteous Money) leading us through this mess. What we end up with is a wildly funny, fearless, and smart exploration of the culture of rape, trauma, performed by an excellent group of actors, seen through the similarities between Roman abductors and modern football culture. It’s heady trip to take, especially as we find ourselves in an era when reporters covering the Steubenville, Ohio rape case talked more about the ‘promising futures’ of the boys accused, and not one word about the raped girl. (for the full review, click here)
Posted on September 10, 2017