BWW Reviews: Molotov Theatre's Intimate Take on EXTREMITIES Does Not Shy Away from Challenge
William Mastrosimone's intense play Extremities may have premiered off-Broadway over 30 years ago, but the questions it considers are also all too relevant today. Certainly, there have been no shortage of television series, movies, magazine articles, and the like that explore the effects of a sexual assault upon women and society in general. They consider the issue from a variety of angles - what would motivate someone to do it (at both a social and psychological level), what are the impacts of such an experience on the victim, and what justice 'looks like', as well as several others.
Yet, this play - now receiving a production from the ambitious Molotov Theatre Group in an intimate, bare bones black box theatre in trendy Adams Morgan - examines the problem in a slightly more nuanced and complex way. Focusing on the grey areas rather than the black and white, it brings attention to the fact that perception is everything and there are truly no easy or singular answers to explain why someone might engage in sexual assault and how it should be dealt with.
The play begins like any play about a rape attempt might. Marjorie (Sherry Berg), scantily-clad in a silk robe and lingerie, is at home alone in her secluded farmhouse near a highway. She leaves the door slightly ajar as she kills a wasp and a man, dressed in work clothes (Ray, played by Alex Zavistovich), enters her home and asks for "Joe" and to use her phone. An initial attempt to coax him to leave fails and he makes sexual advances. Yet, after an initial struggle, the table turns. Suddenly, Marjorie has the control - spraying raid in his eyes and tying him up, placing him in the fireplace ready to burn him. As she begins to dehumanize her attacker (referring to him as 'animal') and disassociates herself from the situation, she takes on a seemingly new persona (as does Ray). When her roommates Terry and Patricia come home (Jennifer Osborn and Alexia Poe, respectively), there are some difficult decisions to be made and many points of view - including what really happened in the farmhouse before their arrival, who is at 'fault,' and how/why the man came to the house - are shared as to what to do or not do with the man.
The powerfully dramatic story is far from clear-cut and Michael Wright's exceptionally perceptive direction highlights the ambiguity of the situation. The attention to detail - both in terms of the acting and the staging - is also noteworthy. Wright's professional group of actors - led by the equally creepy and convincing Berg and Zavistovich who give transformative performances - are more than up to the challenge of doing justice to the dark material. Uncomfortable, in-your-face, honest, and realistic, there is not one bit of false acting on stage, including in the difficult fight scenes (expertly choreographed by the multi-talented Zavistovich).
Although Osborn and Poe have less stage time, both prove adept at subtly letting us know their character's backstories in mere moments, which illuminates why they do what they do. Poe, dressed in business wear, is appropriately rational given her character's job as a social worker, focusing on the need to compassionately deal with the situation in the way that's best for all involved. Osborn, as the slightly more flighty roommate with her own experience with sexual assault, is equally convincing as she wears a flirty, sunny flowered dress and shows off her colorfully painted nails.
Using only minimal effects designed by Zavistovich - aerosolized spray that's used as a weapon and makeup to demonstrate the injuries resulting from that spray - to the utmost advantage, the production does not rely on any unnecessary gimmicks. Instead, the focus is rightly on the power of Mastrosimone's words and the actions of each of the characters. The quiet moments in the first few and final moments of the play are just as powerful as the more explosive middle section. Matt Vossekuil's subtle lighting design nicely enhances the power of the final few moments in particular.
This is a play that deserves to be seen and Molotov certainly does it justice and then some. Incidentally, as my first experience with a Molotov Theatre Group production, I can't wait to see what the company does next.
Running Time: 85 minutes with no intermission.
Extremities plays through November 3, 2013 at the DC Arts Center - 2438 18 Street, NW in Washington, DC. Tickets ($25) are available online.
Graphic: Courtesy of Molotov Theatre Group website.