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Incline Theatre’s “Extremities” Exposes the Visible Violence of Society

Review by Kenneth Stern of Extremities: Incline Theatre

Eileen Earnest and Will Reed in "Extremities"

Eileen Earnest and Will Reed in “Extremities”

When a play like William Mastrosimone’s Extremities moves from a blonde babe in bikini pajamas and a silk robe to a sexual assault choreographed at center stage in the first ten minutes, the audience’s attention is grabbed, as it was at the opening performance at the Incline Theater Thursday night. But what if the trauma builds from that? As staged by Tim Perrino, artistic (and executive) director, violence is in plain sight – but only the beginning is physical.

As possible as being surprised by a wasp on your porch is a man bursting into your living room calling for a nonexistent Joe. Each makes for a dangerous situation; each can get the same response. Raul, a smooth talker, knows there is no Joe. He has been stalking Marjorie, who he earlier saw riding her bike, in shorts, her shirt tied in a knot, exposing shiny skin. Now he has her where he wants her, hugged tight to him, pushed to the floor, smothering her with a pillow.

Both leads are up for their wrenching, energetic, and emotional performances. This is their play, and both do well. Eileen Earnest plays Marjorie with a stony, strong willed determination. It is not her fault that she is tall, leggy, and beautiful. Within moments her life transforms from languid puttering with spritzing of house plants to quickly responding with bug spray to a wasp’s sting. She carries tension and trauma for the entire performance.

Will Reed, as Raul, takes up a lot of space. He is big and smooth and cunning–physically, psychologically, and verbally–using his weight and his mind to leverage his position, offering one story and angle after another. Reed’s Raul has a twangy drawl and teen-like earnestness that is very effective. Once Raul enters, he is on stage for the entire production. He powers through to the end, as a psychopath might. Playwright Mastrosimone did his homework: Raul’s actions fit that definition perfectly.

Marjorie and Raul are a match: each tough, single-minded, and mean. The supporting characters, roommates Terry (Katey Blood) and Patricia (Rachel Mock), are a match, too, but in a more ineffective way; it is not their fault, nor the director’s. Their response to a strange man imprisoned in their living room fireplace is oddly muted. Their willingness to follow his tall tale of assault by Marjorie and their snippy comments about Marjorie’s past behavior around men begs for fleshing out by the playwright. But, actresses and audience are stuck with this script, and their two dimensional figures.

Terry  (Katey Blood) enters  the farm house casually: she strolls, grocery bags in hand, past Raul imprisoned in the fireplace, pattering about her evening’s date. Blood plays her wanting to get along, even if it is with someone chained in the fireplace. Terry is a ditzy blonde and neither self-aware nor aware of her surroundings. Patty (Rachel Mock) looks the part of a bureaucratic social worker but, focusing on being fair minded, she is playing a role and not a person. An honest social worker is not fair, for evil doers prey on innocents, in life and in theater.

The set for Extremities is much of the first floor of a farmhouse: the living room with its centrally positioned fireplace to the kitchen, spread out on the large stage. There is a ubiquitous sense that this could be anywhere. Far above and behind hang a series of seemingly 15 foot long knives, of various shapes. When the stage goes dark, blood red lighting on the knives lends a more than needed touch of foreboding.

Director Perrino warned that this plays stirs strong emotions. Violence remains as American as apple pie, and as close to us as the evening news. Extremities premiered in 1982, and its sad truths of rape victims getting blamed for their assaults remains true today. Read the poster display of news stories on sexual assaults in the theater’s lobby. This is the ugly truth: “One in four college women report surviving rape or attempted rape at some point in their lifetime” [http://www.oneinfourusa.org/statistics.php].

Extremities plays through October 18th.