BWW Review: ArtsWest's REALLY REALLY - A Condescending Message Beneath a Gorgeous Exterior
Behold: the millennial. They leech, they binge-drink, and despite having no idea what it is they want, they will do anything to find out. Brace yourself for a no-hope critique of millennial culture in "Really Really" at ArtsWest.
Leigh (played by Jessi Little) is a seemingly innocent senior college student who finds herself in a compromising situation at a party with the popular, "nice guy" Davis (played by Riley Shanahan). No one would ever believe that he could do something so insidious as sexual assault. Or could he?
This is the central plot in question around which all seven characters orbit. But to these characters, they are each the center of the universe.
As the lights go down and the play begins, we see two young, drunk girls stumble into their home in a fit of laughter, clumsily wrenching off their heels. After checking her phone multiple times for messages, Leigh despondently slinks into the furniture, hugs herself tightly as she lets out a pained, "Ow." End scene.
With a monosyllable, "Really Really" sets the grippingly ambiguous tone for a peer-pressure melodrama that suggests the necessity of a moral compass tossed aside by the solipsistic undergrads. Think of Koushun Takami's "Battle Royale" where each young person gets a cell phone and blind-selfishness as their weapons rather than katana swords.
Directed by Makaela Pollock, what starts as a cut-and-dry divide between the women and men becomes nebulous as the characters make everything about themselves. Take high-watt, Type A Grace, Leigh's roommate and confidant. When challenged to take sides in the case of Leigh vs. Davis, she takes a third side: her own. For Grace, ultimately everything is about her pristine image. Then we have Haley, Leigh's charmingly crass older sister who never hesitates to give advice despite her life being in shambles. And for fratty Cooper who wants nothing more than to stay in college forever, he can only think of Davis' plight as something that may jeopardize their rugby team's success.
It was definitely odd watching this dramatized anthropological study of my generation as a reviewer. I was happy to hear that Paul Downs Colaizzo was not, in fact, of the older generation writing his tangential musings with a "kids these days" attitude, but was, in fact, 27 when he completed the play after finishing his first draft at age 21. However, the play did feel a bit isolating, complimented with the "The World and Lives of Millenials" infographic inside the playbill. Beneath the hyperrealism was a vaudevillian minstrelsy, despite the actors being apart of this generation themselves. It was paradoxically both self-deprecating and full of pride, a feeling about my generation I-as well as Colaizzo, I imagine-know far too well.
Every member of this cast was a delight to watch. Jessi Little got me to believe that Leigh was both mischievous and vulnerable as a complicated protagonist. I loved rolling my eyes at chauvinistic lax-bro Joshua Chessin-Yudin as Cooper. Frederick Hagreen was every tightly-wound grade grubber with a stick up his behind I knew in college, and yet Hagreen brought a sympathetic layer to his portrayal of Johnson. Annelih Hamilton's snobby, peppy Grace was so terrible in a really enjoyable way, bringing an unwavering intensity that gave me chills. Riley Shanahan's Davis was infuriatingly charming (considering the circumstances), providing the "way too nice" evidence that the characters repeatedly assured. Jordan Taylor, as Jimmy, was terrifyingly vengeful. Anna Kasabyan's Haley did not care what other people thought of her, and it was a breath of Brooklyn attitude I haven't breathed in months. Her portrayal-along with her style and head of curly, brown hair-were not unlike that of Ilana Glazer's character in "Broad City." She was tremendously loyal, and laughed in the face of prissy material possessions.
I am once again astounded by the amount of detail put into the set design at ArtsWest. From the choice of robin's egg blue wall paper in the ladies' apartment to every crumpled red solo cup strewn across the floor of the frat house, Designer Julia Welch's parallel collegiate living rooms felt jarringly familiar.
"Really Really" paradoxically weaves together a murky plot while managing to avoid subtlety. Once I applied my own personal values and ingrained assumptions to a he-said-she-said storyline, the cavalierly handled rape of the protagonist (along with the victim's own self-indulgent, sociopathic behavior) disturbed me. And Johnson's insistence on abbreviating "jealous" to "jel" made me cringe.
However, no one character could be entirely innocent in this caricature study of selfish, angry college students doing whatever they can to get exactly what they want. In such an emotionally tumultuous whirlwind, these selfish characters are impossible to sympathize with.
This show was tricky because all of the components were very correct: the cast, the set, the lighting, the costumes, and the flow of the narrative. It kept me engaged the entire time, and I felt a wide range of emotions throughout. That said, at the end of the evening, the show felt overly condescending. I left the theatre with the icky feeling of having been judged all night.
I give ArtsWest's "Really Really" 3.5/5 stars.
"Really Really" runs through February 14, 2016 at ArtsWest. For tickets and information, visit www.artswest.org.