Stet

Theater, Drama
3 out of 5 stars
 (Photograph: Ben Strothmann)
1/6
Photograph: Ben Strothmann
 (Photograph: Ben Strothmann)
2/6
Photograph: Ben Strothmann
 (Photograph: Ben Strothmann)
3/6
Photograph: Ben Strothmann
 (Photograph: Ben Strothmann)
4/6
Photograph: Ben Strothmann
 (Photograph: Ben Strothmann)
5/6
Photograph: Ben Strothmann
 (Photograph: Ben Strothmann)
6/6
Photograph: Ben Strothmann

Stet: Theater review by Helen Shaw

Writing about real tragedy has its dangers. How do you shape someone's story without adulterating it? How do you talk about violence without glamorizing it, rape without sexualizing it? The savvy playwright Kim Davies comes to Stet—her fictionalization of the Rolling Stone “A Rape on Campus” debacle—fully aware of the pitfalls ahead. She points to them, skirts them, but her caution has its costs.

Davies uses the basics of the 2014 scandal as her structure: Journalist Erika (Jocelyn Kuritsky) pursues an account of a gang rape at a fraternity, publishes a blockbuster article, then—almost as we're fading to black—discovers that her source Ashley (Lexi Lapp) may be lying. Ambition and sympathy have swamped Erika's reportage: Her editor Phil (Bruce McKenzie) insists on the most “compelling” tale of assault possible, so not even conversations with frat-bro Connor (sweet Jack Fellows) and college liaison Christina (Déa Julien) can sway Erika from focusing—myopically—on Ashley's story.

The meat of the play consists of Erika's conversations with well-meaning Phil, begging first to be excused from the assignment (she doesn't write “women's stories”), then trying to manage his biases to keep her article slated for the front page. Stet (the term for rejecting an editor's correction) is an Ibsenite problem-drama, and Davies's world seems correspondingly, even appropriately, thin: We learn little about Ashley, less about Christina. Erika's our protagonist, and even she has only two motivations—the second of which is depressingly predictable.

On the physical level, this production takes exacting care: Jo Winiarski's conference room set has wit and polish, and Katherine Freer's projections are likewise extremely well done. Davies, who also wrote the compelling S&M thriller Smoke, is clearly working from rage and heartbreak—a few lines of sudden, acidic fury hint at what might have been had she really cut loose. Stet may simply be a case of too many cooks turning the recipe mild; it was collaboratively developed by director Tony Speciale, actor-producer Kuritsky and Davies over nine months. I feel terrible finding fault with a project that's been so carefully groomed, its every position stated and refuted, its intentions so radiantly good. But theater is alchemy, and we expect it to convert us as well. Here what remains of the original truth is interesting, but it hasn't yet been turned into a good enough lie.—Helen Shaw

June Havoc Theatre (Off Broadway). By Kim Davies. Directed by Tony Speciale. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 30mins. No intermission.

Posted:

Event phone: 866-811-4111
Event website: http://abingdontheatre.org
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