William Mastrosimone’s play EXTREMITIES is a problematic work, a socio-political diatribe about justice, victimization and vigilantism disguised as drama. To make it work requires a great deal of strength, energy and talent. Those elements were in evidence, but inconsistently so, in the Playhouse 22 production of the 1982 drama.
The playwright gives us very little information about the characters, except when sudden revelations come out of nowhere to force a new dimension on the story. They are, for the most part, stereotyped props through which Mastrosimone makes points about the justice system’s treatment of rape victims, he-said/she-said crime, believability, complicity, revenge.
In the play, a young woman (Marjorie) is home alone after her two roommates leave for work. A man comes to the door, asking for someone who doesn’t live there. His intrusion quickly leads to an attack in which he threatens to rape and kill Marjorie, and possibly her roommates later on. In the midst of the struggle, Marjorie is able to turn the tables on her attacker and the situation changes. When the roommates return later, a debate begins. But from the moment Marjorie takes control of the situation, who really has command is in question much of the time…is it her? or Raul (the attacker turned captive)? or her friends (Terry and Patricia)?
Director Deborah Pedretti did not always find solutions to mask or finesse the flaws in the script, and a stronger sense of pacing might have better guided everyone through this troubled piece; but she created a good sense of tension and used the space well (the intimate piece is staged with the audience seated around the action right on the stage). The actors performed with solid intensity throughout, but it was not always controlled or modulated well.
What was also disconcerting at times was the “ease” with which the actors transitioned from one idea or emotion to another. There are many shifts in approach/mood/etc as the ever-evolving conflict unfolds, but too often the actors switched tone or tack far too quickly. They needed to flesh out the thought processes, the consideration of “what do I do now/next?” This same concept, but in a different vein, was related to the props, of all things. Whether it was the means by which Marjorie tied up Raul or the sandwich platter brought from the kitchen – they were too prepared and ready and available. Marjorie barely had to think about what she needed to hold Raul prisoner.
As noted, these characters are a bit one-dimensional and so the performers were fighting against this and the melodramatic sensibility built into the script’s heightened confrontations. As Marjorie, Faith Dowgin had great intensity and succeeded admirably in conveying the range of emotions this woman experiences. Cathryn Hardy was very effective at playing the business-like Patricia, with a wonderfully calm demeanor and physical characterization, while also letting us see the grit behind the façade. Stephanie Tyson was a bit stilted at times and tended to get caught up in Terry’s exaggerated fragility and weepiness. Overall, all three would have been helped by more fluid and thoughtful transitions between the emotions these women are driven to deal with.
Though he, too, rushed many of the role’s changes from thought to thought, Ray Sammak was a dynamic and vibrant centerpiece to this production as Raul. He mixed sleaze and humor and conniving into a sadistically enthusiastic performance.
All of this played out on a nicely functional set with appropriate costumes to define these characters; but what really brought life to this production design was the lighting by Kevin Gunther. It was atmospheric and moody and gave a visual intensity to this erratic play.
by William Mastrosimone
Directed by Deborah Pedretti
March 16-25, 2012
721 Cranbury Road
East Brunswick, NJ