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Review: ACTUALLY Asks the Audience to Consider if Consent Was Given

There has been much revealed in legal proceedings relating to what actually constitutes consent when it comes to physical entanglements that somehow go incredibly wrong, thus resulting in a rape charge. Lives can be sidetracked and careers often destroyed upon a court or jurors ruling on who was at fault in such cases, even when the evidence seems too point in both directions. So how do you decide?

Such in the case in the award-winning playwright Anna Ziegler's ACTUALLY, directed by Tyne Rafaeli at the Geffen Playhouse through June 11, 2017, as a co-world premiere with the Williamstown Theatre Festival. The play tells the story of Amber and Tom, who, finding their way as freshmen at Princeton, spend a night together that alters the course of their lives. They agree on the drinking, they agree on the attraction, but as their physical encounter takes place, consent is foggy, and if unspoken, can it be called consent or rape?

Anna Ziegler's ACTUALLY invites the audience to explore the complex dynamics of sexual assault, this time dealing with not just what constitutes consent but also gender and race politics, our crippling desire to fit in, and the three sides to every story. The entire play is presented by Amber and Tom sitting on two chairs within a box set, each presenting their side of the story about the night in question without really offering a conclusion, leaving it up to the audience to decide for themselves who was really at fault.

Jerry MacKinnon portrays Tom, a black and confident honors student with no problem attracting attention from all types of women, and Samantha Ressler is Amber, a white, inexperienced and rather lonely student who has little knowledge of the possible physical realities of any sexual encounter. The third character is really the amount of alcohol consumed between them that clouded both their memories as well as the quickness with which the two jumped into bed together. Ultimately the question of consent comes into play when Amber believes the force with which Tom pursued her was not given with her consent, although she never said "No" but just jumped out of bed and questioned him with "Actually...." which she assumed he realized meant she was not prepared for such a rough encounter.

As we watch and listen to the two characters relate to each other through their individual remembrances of the encounter, which we never witness, their early lives, families and struggles to get into Princeton, it becomes incredibly apparent that these two so different people probably should never have taken up with each other given their incredible differences and her total lack of understanding the male psyche. Both actors are onstage the entire time, with little physical action taking place. Yet each conveys their characters so effectively, you will no doubt formulate your own opinion of whether or not consent was given by Amber to Tom to continue the encounter once she felt uncomfortable with his actions. There is no true decision to be made, but rather one each audience member must decide for themselves. Be prepared for many topical discussions afterwards in the lobby as well as on your ride home!

In fact, I encourage you to attend on a TALK BACK TUESDAY as I did when audience members have a chance for a deeper conversation to discuss plot, character themes or any other questions directly with the artists during a post-show Q&A from the stage.

A grant from The Sheri and Les Biller Family Foundation is providing support for this production of ACTUALLY as well as increased opportunities for high school and college students to experience it and take action on the issues it presents. And with sexual politics a much-needed conversation needed on college campuses, through a variety of events and other opportunities, the Geffen Playhouse welcomes college students to experience the live storytelling presented in this play. With the location across the street from UCLA, the Geffen is proud of its association with UCLA's School of Theater, Film, and Television, and opens its doors to all college students throughout Los Angeles at a discounted rate. More information is available at

ACTUALLY performances in Audrey Skirball Theater at the Geffen Playhouse, located at 10886 Le Conte Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90024, take place Tuesday - Friday at 8:00 pm, Saturday at 3:00 and 8:00 pm, and Sunday at 2:00 and 7:00 pm. Tickets are priced at $60 - $82, available in person at the Geffen Playhouse box office, by phone at 310.208.5454 or online at Rush tickets for each day's performance are made available to the general public 30 minutes before showtime at the box office at $35 General or $10 Student.

Photos by Chris Whitaker

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