Before I walked into Extremities, I knew it was about a woman who is sexually assaulted, but manages to capture and torture her attacker. Unsure of how the script would handle the assault, I reminded myself that theater that makes us uncomfortable is the best kind of theater.
I wondered if maybe we'd start after the fact; if we, viewing a set of the woman's house, would see her run in the door in tears, just having been attacked; or if we'd somehow be thrown directly into whatever it is she'd do immediately after. In hindsight, this is pretty dumb thinking—of course the play isn't going to spare us the actual event—but it was my thinking nonetheless.
So, when the lights come up and Marjorie (a role originated by Susan Sarandon and Farrah Fawcett, and here played by Mariah Olesen) strolls blithely onstage in a silk bathrobe, all is calm. Shit. Okay. We're starting from square one. We're seeing everything.
Heading into this production, I also figured the rapist would be some kind of clean-cut such-a-nice-boy Brock Turner-esque type of scumbag—charming and with such a bright future till he knocks you unconscious. I based this on the casting: The Animal, as he's most often called, is played by Koppany Pusztai, and a more clean-cut, approachable, strapping young actor Santa Fe does not have. But when Pusztai makes his entrance, he is transformed from the person any of us have seen before; immensely sketchy, intimidating in that "hey, I'm just a nice guy" way, casing the house, casing Marjorie, coiled like a spring. Pusztai, who spent his formative years in New Jersey, whips out a fantastic accent for the role as well—not a caricature in the least, but rather the wise guy who, without words, still inspires a keep-your-distance feeling. Pusztai himself vanishes.
And, yes, we see the assault. (He doesn't actually succeed in criminal sexual penetration, mind you—which becomes an important point later.) And, yes, it's immensely scary. But I was firmly grounded to my notebook, staying in the real world so that I could write: "crazy eyes holy shit Olesen + Pusztai are revelations."
The scene, which could so easily lend itself to the awkward and hesitant, in these hands is sublime—which feels weird to say, given the subject mater, but these actors are unbelievably good. They pull no punches, are utterly unafraid of violence and lack all squeamishness. For this first scene, perhaps the hardest scene of the play, I can't give anything but praise—and a lot is also due to fight coordinator Ambrose Ferber.
Once the adrenaline has passed, the play settles into a more intellectual exploration of what to do next. Marjorie's roommates come home: Terry, a quite bratty girly-girl (Marianna Gallegos), and Patricia, a level-headed social worker (Nicole Bartlett). Gallegos (who is often also very funny, and thank goodness—we need some levity in this one) and Bartlett are nice foils to each other and to Olesen. The roommates serve their distinct respective roles, and never do their parts fade into one another. (Though I'd like to think that a woman couldn't possibly be as petty as Terry and that Gallegos was overplaying it, perhaps that's wishful thinking.)
The play itself, written by William Mastrosimone and originally produced in 1982, seems sculpted for this #MeToo era—which is quite depressing, and illuminates that we've lived in this era for quite a while now (we just happen to have a hashtag for it now). And it's not just a good play for this time because it involves a woman fending off an attacker; the discussion between the attacker and the three roommates after the fact is also an infuriating glimpse into anti-woman sentiments that are just as venomous today as they were in 1982, or 1782, or 1182.
One of the main arguments the roommates have against Marjorie's detainment and torture of her attacker is that she doesn't have a case because he didn't actually rape her; "before they believe a woman in court she has to be dead on arrival," Marjorie spits.
My first instinct here, more than three decades after these lines were written, is: "Times are different now! Trust women! Speak your truth! We're behind you!"
But then I look around. Apparently, we are not. We are absolutely not. And in the characters of Terry and Patricia, who waffle between calmly supporting Marjorie and asking her why she "provokes" advances by dressing the way she does (the Animal opines about her "little white shorts"), the complicated, sickening layers of women's treatment of women is laid bare.
Indeed, that's where the most interesting dynamics lie here: not between the women and the Animal, but between the women themselves. They are not a united front. When the Animal waits until one woman leaves the room and begins to turn the others against her, and they believe him, you want to call bullshit. You want to say that wouldn't happen today. You want to say this is old-school, that we're better than this now, that we've learned, to get out of 1982 and into 2018. Even two years ago, we may have said that.
But this is 2018, and it's not a secret: This play could have been written yesterday. Nothing has changed.
In the second act, Marjorie does go into monologues that feel contrived, but it's no fault of this production team and Olesen handles them like a champ. Mastrosimone went out of his way to imbue a strong sense of personality and psychology in Marjorie (I can see him in his study in 1981, glasses perched on his nose, checking "PTSD" off his list of issues to touch on), which slows the action.
But overall, the four actors, under the direction of Melissa Chambers, deftly eliminate logistical stumbling blocks so the audience can ponder the meatier issues at play. At one point, in bargaining with Marjorie on how to handle her captive, Patricia reasons with her with a concept that should feel outlandish, but isn't: Noting no bruises or semen or torn clothes, Patricia says, "You don't have a case."
Marjorie, tool clutched in her fist, responds: "That's why I have a hammer."
And it's up to the audience to decide whether that's OK.