One would hope that William Mastrosimone’s “Extremities,” first performed in 1980, would, 33 years later, have become a head-shaking anachronism; a show we watch ruefully, thinking how far we’ve come, wishing that a play like this would never have to have been written at all.
WHERE: Berkshire Theatre Group, Unicorn Theatre, 6 East St., Stockbridge, Mass.
WHEN: Through July 27
HOW MUCH: $45
MORE INFO: (413) 997-4444, www.berkshiretheatregroup.org
Unfortunately, the play rings as true all these years later as it does when it was written.
Marjorie (Molly Camp) is at her rural farmhouse alone. Raul (James McMenamin), an unknown man, arrives, and refuses to leave. It becomes obvious very quickly he’s there to at least rape her; all signs point to him also murdering her when he’s finished. She has a very small window where she is able to fight back and overpower him, and she does; suddenly, she has the upper hand. However, the question becomes what to do with him. If she calls the police, as Raul oh-so-helpfully points out, they’ll most likely believe him, and he’ll be released almost immediately. If she kills him, how is she any better than the monster who invaded her life intent on harming her?
Karen Allen directed the piece (she performed the lead role in New York in the original run) and has put together a show that is intense, shocking, yet compelling to watch, and (unfortunately) very timely, considering how long ago it was written. The pace is brisk; the action is realistic and terrifying. The audience was deadly silent throughout. Not a cough, not a candy wrapper. She had us mesmerized.
Molly Camp has an unforgiving part as Marjorie, the victim who becomes the victimizer. She has to go from hard to broken to torn to furious, sometimes in the span of just a few minutes, and she performed the role with the perfect gravity it required. The hollow, dead-eyed stare she’d slip into at various times in the performance was truly chilling. She was a woman with no options left — a woman whose options had all been taken from her in just a few moments, in the safest place she knew.
James McMenamin, as Raul, was a character that it was hard to love — or even empathize with, even when he was being victimized, or when his backstory was revealed. He did the part justice. Even his humorous lines fell flat, because there didn’t seem to be a single audience member willing to laugh and show that they might be on his team.
“Before they believe a woman in court, she has to be dead on arrival,” Marjorie says, in explaining why she can’t call the police, why she has to take care of the man she calls “the animal” herself. Here we are in 2013, and per research done by the theater, 54 percent of all rapes still go unreported. Perhaps the most chilling part of this excellent production isn’t the graphic violence, or the explicit language, or the fact that the victim gets blamed for her own assault by people she considers friends, or that Marjorie considers murder more valid of a solution than going to the authorities — but the fact that, all these years later, nothing seems to have changed at all.