The Rape of the Sabine Women, by Grace B. Matthias
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Theater review by Helen Shaw
The full title of Michael Yates Crowley’s superb rape comedy—yes, you read that right—is confusing enough to warrant that Tyne Rafaeli’s production start with a clarification. As we wait for the show to begin in Arnulfo Maldonado’s impeccably designed school gym, we hear an announcement over the PA system. “Michael wrote it; Grace is the main character,” states a tart voice. “There will be a quiz.”
Questions of authorship abound. Male writer Crowley points to his control over a girl’s story; we wonder about the veracity of Roman accounts of an ancient mass abduction that supposedly resulted in happy marriages; and the plot itself concerns an existential tussle over narrative. Everyone knows that football dreamboat Jeff (Doug Harris) has done something bad to 15-year-old Grace (Susannah Perkins). But when Grace flashes back to a giggly moment the two once shared, adults like Lawyer (Jeff Biehl) flap and squawk, bullying her into scrapping such memories. “It’s not coherent,” says Grace, crestfallen.
The point is that nothing in this all-too-recognizable world coheres. Grace’s story is shifting parts comedy, tragedy, horror and even—your skin crawls to recall it—romance. Her cheerleader friend Monica (Jeena Yi), the acid-tongued Teacher (Andy Lucien) and jackass nemesis Bobby (Alex Breaux) keep making jokes; so does the skilled playwright, his absurdist wit tossing off sparks that sometimes turn into fires. Crowley and Rafaeli’s tricky tonal balancing act requires high-wire nerve, but they manage it. The secret is Perkins, who gets weightier as the show goes on, becoming its calm and certain center; her huge eyes goggle at the world’s hypocrisies, but she knows her story. Even as humor froths up all around, her waters run deep, deep, deep.
Duke on 42nd Street (Off Broadway). By Michael Yates Crowley. Directed by Tyne Rafaeli. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 40mins. No intermission. Through Sept 23.
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