Theater review by David Cote. Lucille Lortel Theatre (Off Broadway). By Paul Downs Colaizzo. Dir. David Cromer. With ensemble cast. 2hrs. One intermission.
Pity the millennial hurtling toward graduation this spring: economy in the crapper, boomers and Xers hogging the ladder of success, mom and dad prepping the basement. What’s an army of helicopter-parented, tweet-addled Wiki-kids to do? Anything, apparently, to get an edge. They’ll plagiarize, take a sugar daddy or—if you are young playwright Paul Downs Colaizzo—pen a shallow, cynical shocker that sells out its stock characters with depressing cold-bloodedness. A calculating example of the my-generation-is-sooo-fucked genre, Really Really (produced by MCC Theater) shows a talented writer peddling a caricature of his peers for the gloating delectation of the olds.
In principle, you can fill a play with selfish jerks and still make it interesting. The Way of the World is peopled with risible social types. Clybourne Park’s quarrelers are flawed, some grotesquely. Leslye Headland’s Bachelorette and Assistance are models of vile bitchiness leavened by wit. And David Mamet’s oeuvre is mostly free of heroes or the pure of heart. (Interesting that Mamet’s daughter, Zosia, plays a lead in this.) There’s a vast difference, though, between a rogue’s gallery of entertaining rascals and a smug exposé such as Really Really, where the author’s distaste for his craven creations is palpable. By the time we get to the LaBute-ish denouement, we’ve descended into gratuitous sexual violence, as the plot crumples under the weight of its manipulative, icky contrivances.
Let’s back up. Really Really begins evocatively, as college roommates Leigh (Mamet) and Grace (Lauren Culpepper) stagger drunkenly back from a party in the small hours of the morning. Grace, bleeding from a nasty cut on her hand, is so plastered she barely feels it. Leigh is not visibly damaged from the night’s revelries, but her pain, we learn, is inward and intense.
In ensuing scenes at the girls’ apartment and at the house where the party took place, we hear that Leigh hooked up with hunky Davis (Matt Lauria) in the latter’s bedroom. What exactly went on behind closed doors forms the dramatic crux. Was Leigh abused? Was it consensual but rough? Davis was so drunk, he can’t remember. Leigh cries rape and convinces her wealthy boyfriend, Jimmy (Evan Jonigkeit), that the trauma killed their unborn baby—which turns out to be a lie. When, in the second act, Davis confronts Leigh at her place and the tense showdown gives way to a rutting clinch, we don’t know who’s screwing whom.
Into this fetid miasma of sexual politics (Grace is a crypto-lesbian who doesn’t believe Leigh’s charges), Colaizzo stirs in class resentment. Leigh is from a poor background, and cocky, privileged jocks such as Davis and Cooper (frequently shirtless David Hull) fill her with a toxic mix of envy and lust. If Colaizzo had added details about Leigh’s major, or whether she was a bad student—or anything less generic than Wrong Side of the Tracks—we’d have a clearer picture of her limited options. Instead, the putative victim pouts and whines, engaging none of our sympathy. (Mamet’s opacity and passivity also grow tedious.) This is the sort of world where one articulate, good-humored, sensible character would blow the house of cards down.
Given these limitations, Colaizzo can turn out sharpish comic dialogue, and director David Cromer, with his crackerjack design team, works overtime to hide the script’s structural flaws and create the illusion of psychological depth. It’s as if a promising but callow student’s final paper were ghostwritten by a tenured professor. For a little something in exchange, of course.
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