Friday, February 16, 2018

Extremities (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Who are you, really?

The question, at the very heart of William Mastrosimone's play Extremities, has no simple answer. How could it?  In the end, after all, there are no simple people, only different nuances of complexity and layers.  As per the title, only at certain moments--often extreme ones--do all our social masks slip, revealing something at our very heart.

Marjorie (Virginia Novello) is hanging out at home when a stranger named Raul (David Hardy) knocks on the door, looking for someone he says owes him money.  It takes a few moments, but her alarm bells start going off a little too later. This man is here to rape her, and he gloatingly notes he's also going to "cut" and kill her.  These first twenty minutes of the play prove deeply uncomfortable to watch.  I would imagine they feel ugly in the extreme to actually perform!  Fortunately, she manages by a fortunate coincidence to get the upper hand and renders her assailant unconscious.

What next?  Here the play proper begins.  She drags him into the fireplace, using her bicycle and laundry cords and bicycle chains and other things to bind him.  Makes sense.  Render the dangerous man--the one inches taller and at least fifty pounds heavier--immobile. 

He wakes up, unable to see, and enraged.  He screams at her, threatens her with the idea "there's no proof!" and promises to come back and kill her. 

When she comes back, she's carrying a shovel.

I described the basic plot to someone on the train heading home, and this person seemed puzzled that neither Marjorie nor Raul behaved in ways that seemed to make sense.  Which honestly misses the point.  Anyone working themselves up to commit a rape/murder isn't likely to be in a particularly rational state.  Victims of assault in the immediate aftermath of it (which counts as both of them) are in shock and running on adrenaline.  At this moment, the social masks have begun to slip, but remain in place.

The same thing happens as Marjorie's roommates start coming home.  It becomes their turn to face stress, to try and figure out what to do.  Terry (Caroline Dingwall) arrives first, and seemingly follows Marjorie's lead.  Patricia (Marissa Fennel), a social worker, comes later and ultimately tries to take charge.  Raul meanwhile does nearly all he can to set the three against each other.  He succeeds to a disturbing degree, revealing in the process some unpleasant truths about each.  Terry has herself been raped, and she never told anyone.  Patricia clearly thinks herself the smartest of the three (she may be right) and harbors some severe resentment of them both. Her face as she realizes something about herself proves haunting. Interestingly, Terry--who seems to fit into the role of ditzy girl--in moments of stress puts clues together at light speed. That's one of the things about social masks--to some extent they are lies, often lies we tell ourselves about ourselves.

By the play's end, though, Marjorie and Raul go furthest, have gone to the most extreme, and theirs' are the social masks that fall all the way off.  Emotionally they end up naked, the most real selves unveiled.  Both find themselves a bit shocked.  Which makes for a brave and harrowing performance.

Extremities plays Saturdays and Sundays at 7pm until March 31, 2018 at Theatre68 5112 Lankershim, North Hollywood CA 91601.

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