It’s even hard to say if Grace, the victim, feels like a victim or not. On the other hand, such a dilemma makes Susannah Perkins’ performance just that: subtle and nuanced, vulnerable and bewildered. The same can be said about Doug Harris as Jeff, the culprit of the rape. He seems anything but a rapist, which makes the play all the more complicated–or puzzling. His football teammate, Bobby, on the other hand, eggs him on.
Though it says right at the top of the show that Michael Yates Crowley’s The Rape of the Sabine Women, by Grace B. Matthias is set at a high school in Springfield–without identifying the state–it could really be any middle American town, which is part of the point: practically every state in the country has a “Springfield” after all. And as “The News” tells us in the beginning, “This is another perfect day in this perfect town.”
“The News” is personified by Chas Carey, just as “Wikipedia” 1, 2, and 3 are enacted by several members of the cast, as they tell us, for instance, that The Rape of the Sabine Women was “an important classical subject for many painters.”
It really does seem to be an all-American situation, when a 15-year-old girl, coming of age, has sex with a boy her own age, or slightly older, and then reports it as a rape. But even though the rape may be central to Crowley’s play, it hardly seems to matter, in the end. It’s almost like an event that hasn’t happened. The New York Post tabloid-type cover of the program appears more dramatic than anything that occurs on stage.
That’s partially because Grace is compelled to drink alcohol until she passes out, making her more susceptible to Jeff’s raping her. But then, it’s really more Jeff’s football teammate, Bobby (Alex Breaux), who’s behind the act. Jeff himself is more like a willing accomplice than an activator, and the play very much suggests that he acts out the rape to prove that he’s not having a homosexual relationship with the more aggressive Bobby. While the story is far from uninteresting, it also makes for difficult theatergoing, since it leaves us in the lurch time and again.
Grace’s plight is made worse by the lack of any effective support, with a preacher who says, “The best thing for everyone is if you just drop this whole thing,” and a guidance counselor who tells her, “Please don’t get emotional. I can’t handle when students get emotional.” Both as written by Crowley and portrayed by Eva Kaminsky, the guidance counselor comes across as a lot more emotional and unstable than the imperturbable Grace.
In the end, one wishes director Tyne Rafaeli found a way to make the story more unified. Both as written and staged, it keeps shifting around and seems groundless–in and out of the high-school auditorium (the functional set is designed by Arnulfo Maldonado), the courtroom, which is where–for the most part–the story is told–and the scene of the crime, “The Dump,” which is when Jeff and Grace swim in the nude preceding the rape. But despite any shortfalls with the play itself, the performers redeem it and make it a worthwhile evening.
The Rape of the Sabine Women, by Grace B. Matthias (through September 23, 2017)
The Playwrights Realm
The Duke on 42nd Street, 229 West 42nd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 646-223-3010 or visit http://www.DukeOn42.org
Running time: 65 minutes without an intermission