Rapist turns victim in Extremities, at Main Street Playhouse through August 14
Extremities is an exercise in bold theater-making. Written in 1981 by William Mastrosimone, the play examines the aftermath of an attempted rape to cast light on the dynamics between victim and perpetrator. Does the victim invite violence by her dress or actions? Why has rape — a crime that violates the victim physically, emotionally, and mentally — never been viewed by society and the law as an open-and-shut issue?
It's a dicey subject that provokes commentary about our judicial system and the way our culture views justice. The Main Street Players have pulled it off, save for a few ticks and a plot that is, to an extent, absurd.
Marjorie (Sabrina Gore) is a young, attractive, single woman living with two female roommates. Alone at home while doing some light cleaning in a skimpy red nighty, she is startled when a man, Raul (Daniel Nieves), enters the house after the door is left ajar. Raul feigns ignorance when she tells him he has the wrong house, and then asks if he can use her phone. After she insists that he leave, Raul rips the phone cord from the wall and smashes Marjorie's cell phone on the ground. He lunges at her, knocks her to the floor, and tries to rape her.
Marjorie grabs a bottle of cleaning solution from the coffee table and sprays it into the man's eyes. She kicks him, hits him, and blindfolds him. She ties him with rope and then locks him inside her fireplace. Eventually she tortures Raul — stabbing him with a poker, smashing his hand with a hammer, scalding him with boiling water from a teakettle, and threatening to light him on fire — effectively turning the hunter into the prey.
And it's when the tables are turned that things get complicated.
Marjorie can call the cops, but there's no real proof Raul did what she would accuse him of doing. She is left to confront the reality of her circumstances. She now is the one committing a crime. After all, she assaulted Raul and tied him up. And because she escaped before he could rape her, the burden of proof is on her. Though she was legally violated, no actual rape was committed. This is a technicality Raul is well aware of, and he uses it to his advantage as he tries to scare Marjorie into releasing him.
He knows she's got nothing. And he knows that an accusation of rape can be easily manipulated in a courtroom so that not only might the suspect walk, but also he could put his victim behind bars.
When Marjorie's roommates arrive home to discover a man tied, beaten, and locked inside their fireplace, the situation becomes even more convoluted. Raul tries to turn the women against each other by revealing secrets he picked up when staking out their home. He's in chains but is still in control of the situation, playing mental chess with Marjorie. He plays the victim card well, managing to become a sympathetic figure in the roommates' eyes.
All the while, there's Marjorie, whose state of mind goes beyond traumatized. She wants to eradicate the memory of the man who tried to violate her. She entertains thoughts of killing him and burying the body in her garden, even as he sits imprisoned, starving, thirsty, and severely injured.
The first 20 minutes of Extremities is raw, intense, and uncomfortable to watch. The two principal actors, particularly Gore, convincingly portray a violent struggle in which a helpless woman dressed only in a nightie is knocked to the ground, slapped around, and forced to say demeaning things ("I'm a puta!") before a strange man attempts to violate her. Rape, after all, is a crime of control more than sex. It's dehumanizing, and the actors successfully pull it off, setting the tone for the rest of the story.
The Main Street Players are a small community theater troupe, and sometimes it shows during the performance. The actors' blocking could use a tweak — particularly when Marjorie and Raul first meet. We see too much of Raul's back when he introduces himself, and the play's acting overall is clunky, thanks mainly to a script that sometimes borders on preposterous.
Nieves does what he can with Raul's limited dialogue, but he relies too much on yelling to convey the character's tension and animal-like sensibilities. Sometimes less can be more. But there's only so much he can do when the lines delivered while Raul is chained up are asinine. Here we have a guy who's had chemicals thrown in his eyes, has most likely suffered third-degree burns on his body, has a broken hand, is dehydrated, and has been crammed into a makeshift cell, yet he's spewing one-liners like a Catskills comedian. The lines are unnecessary and detract from the tension and focus.
Despite the scant character development, Gore turns in a strong performance as Marjorie, conveying her rage and anguish with competent poise, while Andrea Uzategi and Lucy Nuñez as the roommates bring a solid balance to the cast.
Extremities is a flawed play, but 30 years after it was written, it remains a conversation-starter, a timely examination of a thorny issue where redemption and hope are seldom found. The Main Street Players must be applauded for tackling such a divisive subject.
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