- Greggory Moore
By Greggory Moore, Curtain Call reviewer
It’s one of the better-known premises in modern theatre: a man breaks into a house to rape a woman, but she fends him off, injuring and taking him prisoner. She knows it’s his word against hers, and with him threatening to come back and finish the job, does she try her luck with the police or mete out her own version of justice?
Despite its simplicity, William Mastrosimone’s Extremities is a bit difficult to pull off. Because the play’s intensity peaks so early in a scene whose resolution we already know, it’s completely up to the actors to sustain the audience’s interest for the next 80 minutes, which unfold without the benefit of a single scene change and more or less in real time.
On this count, the Garage Theatre is largely successful. In the pivotal role of Marjorie, Maroon Stranger is fantastic. All at once Marjorie is a victim and a survivor, scared and empowered, confused and decisive, sad and angry, engaged and withdrawn. Stranger plays all of it perfectly. Her big moments are excellent, but perhaps even more impressive is her subtlety, letting us see how much is happening behind her eyes. This is one play where the close confines of a black-box space like the Garage are a huge advantage. This is a performance you want to see up close and personal.
If Marjorie is a role challenging for its number of facets, would-be rapist Raul is the opposite. He is a sociopath, completely unsympathetic and irredeemable. A bad actor could turn such a pure villain into pure caricature—I mean, it’s pretty much written as a caricature (which is not really a flaw)—but Nicholas B. Gianforti makes him real, monstrous and menacing but also flesh and blood. We believe him—there really are monsters in the world—and together he and Stranger make their opening encounter nearly every bit as harrowing as it should be. For most of it we are truly in the room, watching a real assault, and because of that we’re on board for the rest of the play.
Unfortunately, from this point onwards we find little bits of sloppiness that remind us we’re watching a piece of fiction. Reference is made to Raul’s being hogtied, but his feet are never bound, making for a double gaffe when he sits idly during a moment where clearly he would kick Marjorie. Later, one of Marjorie’s roommates asks whether she can loosen the noose around Raul’s neck (because otherwise he won’t be able to swallow the food she’s giving him), yet we clearly see the noose hanging like a loose necklace. There’s also no cause to hand-feed him, as his bonds don’t come close to preventing him from reaching his mouth.
In fact, the overall physicality is too restrained. That’s not really a problem during the attempted rape, but the rest of the physical action never feels as believable. Gianforti never truly struggles to free himself, asking for us to suspend our disbelief in a play that pays off most handsomely if we don’t have to.
Pretty clearly part of the reason he never truly struggles is that the fireplace in which he’s confined for most of the play is not built sturdily enough to withstand any real thrashing about. It’s the only weakness in Rob Young’s solid set design, which otherwise helps us feel immersed in the action.
Despite a compelling premise, at times Mastrosimone’s text seems overly much like he’s going down a checklist (debate about whether Marjorie dresses like she wants it—check; turn the tables on the would-be rapist—check; convenient confession—check), rather than the characters’ words emanating organically from the deep emotional well such a situation would draw from. That failing (which, to be fair, is minor, not fatal) makes the acting all the more important. So it is a tribute to the cast—especially Maroon Stranger—that the Garage’s production works as well as it does.
Extremities at The Garage Theatre
Time: Thurs-Sat 8 p.m., Runs through May 5
Cost: $18–$25 (Thursday tix are 2-for-1)
Details: (562) 433-8337, TheGaragetheatre.org
Venue: 251 E 7th St. (Just off Long Beach Blvd.), Long Beach