Rolling Stone magazine’s 2014 controversial article “A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA” about an alleged rape at a University of Virginia fraternity house seemingly has inspired the author of this play, Kim Davies. Ms. Davies has taken many of the facts of that story and woven them into this fictionalized narrative that falls short of being compelling.
“That is mainly a story about reporting and editing.”
Sheila Coronel, Steve Coll, and Derek Kravitz, Columbia Journalism Review, 5 April 2015
Davies has that quote at the beginning of her script that she developed with Jocelyn Kurtisky and Tony Speciale. Indeed, the play’s well-crafted short scenes do extensively focus on reporting and editing during its 90 often procedural-style minutes. Despite the well-intentioned treatment and respectful enactment of such a serious subject, it doesn’t really build to a dramatically satisfying conclusion.
Phil is a pragmatic middle-aged editor of a monthly magazine. Erika is a rising journalist in her early 30’s. He coaxes her into investigating a young college coed’s allegations of having been raped by seven fraternity brothers during a party.
Erika interviews several figures on the periphery of the case. Ashley is the woman making the charges. Christina is the young director of a campus assault outreach program funded by the university. Connor is the male student who founded an organization to prevent college rape and who is also in the fraternity in question.
The dialogue is informative but it is periodically didactic. Revelatory details about each character’s personal conflicts and past behavior that bears upon the plot comes across at times as mechanical. The production is quite busy and that adds obvious theatricality to the presentation.
Jo Winiarski’s scenic design is a striking gray themed and detailed conference room that cleverly serves as all of the locales. Katherine Freer’s prevalent and accomplished projection design on the back wall of the stage that are office windows includes mock television news broadcasts as well as face time chats, texts and emails between the characters. The sound design by Christian Frederickson skillfully blends the periodically heard modern electronic score along with pertinent sound effects. Hunter Kaczorowski’s costume designs are contemporary basic with lively flourishes.
Director Tony Speciale has expertly staged the scenes with precision as well as proficiently integrated the design elements. The performances Mr. Speciale has obtained from the personable cast are very effective.
With a cool haircut, striped shirt, leather jacket, jeans and high black leather boots, Jocelyn Kurtisky looks exactly like a hip young journalist as Erika. The captivating Ms. Kurtisky is in every scene of the play and she carries it with her admirable performance. Her excellent characterization of the tough reporter veers from bravado to subtlety.
The charming Bruce McKenzie brings the requisite weariness, cynicism and optimism to the role of Phil, the magazine’s editor.
Déa Julien’s magnetic performance as Christina wonderfully ranges from giddiness to intensity as she reveals the character’s facets.
As the sympathetic frat guy Connor, the strapping Jack Fellows winningly embraces good-natured goofiness with dashes of chilling depth.
In the difficult and propulsive role of the volatile Ashley, the lively Lexi Lapp is suitably emotional.
“Stet” is a Latin verb meaning let it stand that’s used by proofreaders and editors in reference to disregarding a correction to a text.
Though fitfully interesting chiefly due to the performances, STET plods straightforwardly rather then crackles.
STET (through July 10, 2016)
Abingdon Theatre Company and The Muse Project
The June Havoc Theatre, 312 West 36th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit http://www.abingdontheatre.org
Running time: one hour and 40 minutes with no intermission