BWW Review: iTheatre Collaborative Presents Anna Ziegler's ACTUALLY - He Said. She Said. And The Quest For Truth
He said. She said. Two simple sentences that frame the headlines of our times, reflecting the disparity between two deeply held but very different versions of a shared but allegedly non-consensual sexual experience. The heat around the issue is not confined to the workplace or Congressional hearing rooms. It plays out as well and turbulently on America's college campuses where the least ready of our population are thrust into independence and challenged to balance the competing demands of study and intoxicating fun.
In her riveting and provocative play, ACTUALLY, Anna Ziegler compels us to confront a vexing question: how and by what criteria do we adjudicate the truth and determine guilt or innocence on the charge of rape?
On the morning after, Amber Cohen questions if her intercourse with fellow Yale freshman Tom Anthony was consensual or if she was raped. Her doubt goes viral and automatically spawns an investigation under standards established by the U.S. Department of Education in its 2011 epistle, Guidance on Addressing Sexual Harassment/Sexual Violence.
Amber and Tom must testify before a panel of strangers. In the absence of witnesses, they have only their word to count on, their conflicting recollections clouded by the fog of passion and alcohol and confused intentions. To compound matters, judgment on who is more to be believed is based on such tenuous notions as "the more convincing evidence" and its "probable truth or accuracy."
This is the scenario that is center stage in iTheatre Collaborative's stirring production of the play, tautly directed by Rosemary Close and featuring bristling performances by Elizabeth Broeder and Rapheal Hamilton.
For an intense ninety minutes, the actors hold fast to the angst and determination of both characters as they strive to explain and justify themselves. The result is an emotionally harrowing trial of self-reflection, self-justification, and self-revelation.
As they present their testimony, they reveal how conditioned they are by their cultural origins, their life-so-far experiences, and their hormones.
Elizabeth Broeder delivers a stunning and absorbing portrayal of Amber, reflecting the ambivalence and vulnerability of this middle-class Jewish girl, not totally comfortable in her own body but desirous of attention. That a very attractive Black student might find her appealing is a lift to her ego, but not for long. She compromises her sense of self-worth by leaning on the pratfall effect ~ the idea the idea that one's appeal to another may increase because of a perceived inadequacy. She reflexively spouts memes that aim to create a bond between her and Tom ~ the silly supposition that Jews and Blacks are alike in that both never want to go camping or, on a more serious note, that both probably share a deep and unending fear that at any moment they'll be rounded up and killed. She fluctuates between approach and avoidance all the while certain that she'd like to be with Tom.
In an equally brilliant and sharply defined performance, Rapheal Hamilton captures the vibrant and alluring drive of Tom to fulfill himself and be at the top of his game. He is a sensitive and reflective soul, a piano student and a lover of Mozart, but he is also, unequivocally, fond of women. As a Black man on an historically privileged campus, he strives to define himself just as he sees in Amber a possible soulmate. To be accused of rape is a shattering ordeal that tests him to his core.
As Amber and Tom alternate in recording their accounts ~ much as if they were on a seesaw, one after another rising to fill the spotlight ~ each conveys a believability that dissipates after they cross the fulcrum. In the end, then, it falls to an uncertain audience to contemplate what constitutes justice and to determine where the preponderance of evidence in the case of Amber v. Tony falls. You will not walk away from this show unscathed by doubt and the inability to be certain about what actually happened. Such is the conundrum of this issue. You will, however, leave with the knowledge that you experienced a profound and sensitively delivered production.
ACTUALLY runs through September 21st in the The Kax Stage at the Herberger Theater Center in Phoenix.
Poster credit to iTheatre Collaborative