Extreme Exhorts

Pamela Roza has Andy Quiroga roped and tied -- but where to now?

Chances are the woman sitting next to you has been raped:

One out of three women in the United States are sexually assaulted by age eighteen. Of all rape cases that are prosecuted, only two percent result in conviction. The average rapist rapes 29 times.

These are all statistics that playwright William Mastrosimone discovered in the late Seventies when he began to do research for his play, Extremities, the story of a young woman named Marjorie (Pamela Roza) who is attacked but manages to retaliate and put her attacker, Raul (Andy Quiroga), in the position of victim. The play was inspired by a woman who told Mastrosimone of her own rape and the feeling of guilt that plagues her for not having done anything to fight back. As Mastrosimone explains in an article he wrote in 1984 on the making of Extremities, the rape victim told him: "If I had five minutes in a locked room with him now ..." She didn't finish her sentence, but Mastrosimone does. Extremities is that five minutes and more.

The play explores the social and political phenomena surrounding rape: an inefficient prosecuting system, misogynist attitudes toward women who are raped, and the moral dilemma of revenge. With so many "issues" surrounding it, the play risks becoming a soapbox for the author's moral and political beliefs rather than a compelling piece of drama. Fortunately Treasure Island Studio Theatre's debut performance doesn't fall completely into that category, but the company doesn't manage to mesmerize, either. These capable actors give adequate representations of their characters (the rapist, the victim, the friend, et cetera), but they don't succeed in breaking the barrier that separates good acting from the kind of acting that engages you so completely you forget you are watching a play.

In the opening scene, Marjorie is alone at home drinking coffee and watering plants. Raul lets himself in under the pretense that he thinks it's the house of a friend. An attack ensues. Raul is about to rape Marjorie when she manages to turn the tables on him, hog-tie him, and hold him captive until her roommates get home. Accomplishing all this so believably within the first twenty minutes of the play is a formidable feat. The physicality and high drama could easily appear forced or downright unconvincing, but they're not, owing in part to Ken Clement's realistic fight-scene choreography. The scene also is made convincing by the resourceful set design of the play's director, Danny Maldonado. Marjorie uses some boards and cinderblocks that inconspicuously make up shelves on the wall and converts them into a barricade with which to entrap her victim. The intimate set also gives the play a voyeuristic tone, which makes the explicit material in the beginning particularly disturbing.

Quiroga is tormenting as the rapist Raul. He takes advantage of Mastrosimone's diabolical script, which has Raul force Marjorie to pretend she wants to have sex with him. Roza's performance is strongest during the beginning, too. Making guttural noises and struggling under Raul's weight, she is a convincing victim, but she is even more believable once she has overpowered him. The play's dramatic potential is best in these moments, when Raul is floating from semiconsciousness into unconsciousness and Marjorie is alone with him. Her exasperated breath and animal-like noises mingle strangely with silence to create an eerie portrait of this unlikely turn of events.

One of the problems with this script is that it has a political agenda, which sometimes supersedes characterization. When Marjorie's two roommates come on the scene, the play's underlying moral conflicts rise to the surface. Together Patricia (Elda Elisa Brouwer) and Terry (Katerina Bilbao) represent a social consciousness that says every person deserves to have a legal trial. Whereas Marjorie with her hammer-wielding martial law, believes it's her life or her oppressor's. This debate is always floating on the surface of the dialogue, guiding us through a fairly straightforward moral dilemma and sometimes overshadowing the characters that are actually living through this quandary. As playwright Sam Shepard says, "Ideas emerge from plays, not the other way around." Extremities has largely evolved from an idea, which makes it interesting but not necessarily arresting, theatrically speaking.

Marjorie has control over her victim, who already has convinced her that it's no use to call the police because they'll let him go on lack of evidence, and he'll come back to finish what he started. She is left with the decision to bury him alive -- until her roommates return. Although Marjorie's situation is one with which any remotely sensitive human being could empathize, it's the lack of other emotions, such as fear, fatigue, and confusion, that impede her character from fully engaging the audience. Rage is understandably her main motivation, and she deftly doles out anger and sarcasm, as when she barks at Patricia: "Maybe you'd care a little more if you came in, tripped over my body, and [that] animal was here waiting for you." But Roza's overreliance on rage as her emotional motivator keeps Marjorie from being a fully developed, multifaceted character. The presence of one emotion does not necessitate the absence of others. A truly enigmatic character portrait demands that an emotion exists in spite of other emotions, not instead of.

Quiroga also is fairly one-dimensional in his subterfuge. He divides most of his stage time between trying to persuade the roommates to befriend him and losing his temper.

Brouwer does a good job as the take-charge, rational Patricia. She even steals a few laughs when she is trying to get Marjorie and Terry to stop in the middle of the mayhem and "define goals," or at least eat a roast beef sandwich.

Likewise Bilbao as the passive, somewhat girlish Terry is believable, yet hides her own secret, the revelation of which presents a missed opportunity. Her delivery of such powerful information seems to accelerate in emotion and volume, but her character doesn't change or expand with this disclosure. Patricia and Terry form a chorus of reason and manage not to be overtly moralistic, but the chemistry between them and Marjorie isn't as tense as it should be, given the situation and their very different personalities.

Extremities is a difficult play, because the strong material makes the stakes high; audience members either walk out devastated or feeling as though they have seen any number of made-for-TV dramas. Director Maldonado's ending is appropriately ambiguous, steering away from the play's original slant, which was to give Raul a soul and rehabilitate him.

This play and John Pielmeier's Agnes of God both originated at Louisville's Actors Theatre. Both border on glorifying antisocial or deviant behavior, and both were made into movies. (Extremities featured Farrah Fawcett in its film adaptation; the latter garnered more success with Jane Fonda in the lead role.) I am not sure why Maldonado has chosen this particular play for his company's debut performance. Small theater companies like Juggerknot, Madcat, Feminino Plural, and Oye Rep are a vital part of South Florida's theater community. Because of their size, they can often do much riskier theater than the midsize to large companies. Also much newer productions. Treasure Island Studio Theater has this same potential. It's unclear why they chose an Eighties socially conscious play forever associated with a Farrah Fawcett flick for their premiere. Tucked between an enormous apartment building and the Intracoastal Waterway on the 71st Street Causeway, this 40-seat studio theater has all the makings for something more adventurous and idiosyncratic. Maldonado and his troupe definitely are up to the task, so why stop looking for lost treasure?

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