“Actually” is a new play (premiered last year) by Anna Ziegler, now playing at Theater J (or, rather, a Theater J play now playing at Arena, as the DCJCC is under renovation). We saw it last night.
We were familiar with Ziegler, because we had seen her wonderful “Photograph 51”, about Rosa Franklin and her role in the discovery of the Double Helix with Francis Crick and J.D. Watson, several years ago.
Actually, “Actually” is no “Photograph 51”. It’s a one act, 90 minute show about date rape. The two actors, both Princeton freshmen, one male, one female, sit on chairs facing the audience, generally communicating not with each other, but sometimes with the audience and sometimes with the panel (three professors) judging the case, telling their story of what happened on the date where the rape may or may not have taken place. The actors are terrific, the dialogue is fast paced and clever.
The question is: what’s the goal of the play?
The young man is African American; the girl white and Jewish. They are in the first month of their freshman year. You learn their backgrounds, how nervous they are, how they wonder if they do, or ever will, fit in at Princeton. They eye each other, they meet, they have ice cream, they arrange to go to a party, they drink much too much, they wind up back at his dorm room, they spend the night, they have sex, she leaves in the morning.
She talks to one of her new friends and tells her that he “sort of ” raped me, or “almost” raped me, or something like that. He friend pressures her to talk to the RA, who seems to convince her to file a charge. She does and he is called before a faculty representative. He is shocked.
Did she consent? She didn’t say “no”; she seemed to be enjoying herself; she didn’t specifically say “yes”, but “who does?” in such circumstances. Yes, she was drunk.
Well, what makes for rape? Their stories are very different; how do you believe one over the other? And who are these faculty advisors who get to run a hearing and decide, if they feel it appropriate, a “punishment”? And what could that punishment be?
At the end of the 90 minutes, you don’t know any more than when you got to the theater. You don’t know what really happened, and you don’t know how it turned out. You have heard an interesting story; you have seen two very good actors play two interesting characters. But no more.
Do I recommend you see it? I don’t want you to think I am telling you not to see it. But don’t set your expectations too high.