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By Donald V. Calamia
Posted: Feb. 9, 2013 at 3:38 p.m.
One sure way to know a psychological thriller is succeeding is to have its patrons move back a row during intermission to get away from the intensity of the action. Another is to have stunned silence at the play's conclusion, which continues – for the most part – throughout the audience's exit from the theater. Both occurred at the opening night performance of "Extremities" at The Box Theater in Downtown Mount Clemens.
William Mastrosimone's 1982 drama is seemingly a perfect fit for The Box's latest home, an intimate black box, storefront theater located in the former Che Cosa Coffee House (which has relocated to the back of the theater, accessible via a separate entrance on Pine Street). In its current configuration, the action takes place only inches from the feet of anyone sitting in the front row, making them – and everyone else, for that matter – up-close witnesses to the action that unfolds before them.
And what we experienced on opening night was – at times – extremely intense.
In "Extremities," a man comes barging into a farmhouse off a country road asking to see a man named "Joe." Home alone is Marjorie (Amanda Sayers), who denies anyone named Joe lives there. It's a ruse, of course; Raul (Jeremy Strebendt) has been stalking Marjorie – and he's there to rape her. He fails, thanks to some eventual quick thinking on Marjorie's part – and the tables are turned: The predator becomes the prey, as the woman he attacked becomes determined to dole out her own brand of justice to the man she now holds captive in her fireplace.
To be totally honest, I'm not a fan of Mastrosimone's manipulative script, primarily because I had a tough time suspending my disbelief when it came to certain aspects of the plot – starting with the opening. How many people do YOU know who would calmly engage in conversation with a stranger who unexpectedly burst into their house? (In many homes today, Raul would have been shot dead seconds after coming through the door. But that would have made for a very short play indeed.) And it appears that the playwright has a low opinion of women, since Marjorie, Terry (Mandy Logsdon) and Patricia (Diane Turner) are so quickly and easily manipulated by Raul – and two of them have no backbone to stand up for what they know is right.
Also problematic for me at the beginning were choices made by director Rodel Salazar. For starters, Marjorie was way too calm upon Raul's entrance – unless she's used to strangers barging in on her. And working somewhat against them was the tight space, which positioned Marjorie an arms-length away from fireplace utensils that could have easily been used to defend herself against Raul not long after his arrival. (It would be better to place the utensils on the opposite side of the fireplace.) And, quite frankly, the assault was too much like an Afternoon Special for teens on date rape; it needs greater ferocity to draw the audience into Marjorie's line of thinking. (One other picky note: Raul needs to be tied tighter while in captivity, and his hands shouldn't be so close to the binding around his ankles; in real life, he could have been outta there and on his way home long before the script's end!)
But once past what for me was a shaky and not very believable beginning, "Extremities" picks up steam – especially after intermission when the seeds of doubt and discord Raul began planting earlier begin to take root.
As alluded to earlier, the three actresses did what they could with a script that does not serve women well. Strebendt is given the most to work with, and he particularly shines in Act 2. (It was smart of Salazar to keep Raul from looking and acting like what could be a creepy, stereotypical serial rapist.)
The show's technical elements were adequate for a small budget theater company, although a few light cues (designed by the director) were a bit confusing. (Is this a scene change, or isn't it?) Music might have helped clarify things a bit.
Ultimately, the uber-intense, hair-raising final 15 minutes or so of "Extremities" deliver the powerful impact the playwright, director and cast desired. And the conversations the performance will generate about rape and its aftermath are important discussions to have.
SHOW DETAILS: "Extremities" continues at The Box Theater, 90 Macomb Place, Mount Clemens, 8 p.m. Feb. 9, 14-16 & 22-23, and 2 p.m. Feb. 17. Tickets: $16-$18. For information: 586-954-2677 or www.theboxtheater.com.
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