Encore Michigan

‘Interference’ at The Matrix is gripping look at campus rape

Review March 24, 2019 David Kiley

DETROIT, Mich.–If you want to ignite debate at the dinner table, and you have a big family, kick it off discussing a story in the news about a big-time college quarterback accused of date-raping a co-ed at a house party. What happened? Why ruin the life of a promising young man possibly headed for the NFL? It was a party. She was drinking. What did she expect?

If you want to know about a real emergency gripping the U.S., it’s the data on sexual assault on college campuses. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives. Fifty-one percent of women who are raped report it is done by someone with whom they are acquainted.  A 2002 study revealed that 63.3% of men at one university who self-reported acts qualifying as rape or attempted rape admitted to committing repeat rapes. More than 90% of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report the attack. None of that is “fake news,” though we can be sure that the male power culture that likes to subordinate the value of women would refer to a society of mostly docile, subordinated women as “the good ol days” would call it just that.

It’s some set of statistics. And they should scare us. The occurrence of rape on campus does not seem to discriminate much between Ivy League, small rural colleges or big public universities.

“It’s because she asked for it.” “She dressed like she wanted it.” “She had too much to drink.” “Her old boyfriend posted on Facebook that she is ‘easy.'” It’s hard to believe that more than 90% of women who are raped on campus don’t want to come forward.

That’s a big wind-up to discussing a new play, Interference, by Lynda Radley, now playing at The Matrix Theatre in Detroit.

The play is written in a compelling, disarming structure. Before we sit down, there is a scroll on the screen behind the stage of a Google search of “university rape case.” It seems endless. And it’s all real. One of the actors is silent, sitting in the corner while we find our seats. She is in her phone, presumably viewing the same scroll. Indeed, at several times in the play, the actors who are not in character are sitting, eyes downward and in their phones.

Soon we find out that Karen (Danielle Peck) has been raped. Then we are exposed to every voice who speaks to her and about her in the ensuing weeks and months–her lawyer, her best friend, her boyfriend, the charged rapist’s coach, the detective, her father, a couple of sports broadcasters, the district attorney, and a myriad of voices that came through on Facebook in the comment section of a Facebook Page and Tweets. We read them on the screen, but voiceovers read many of them for us.

To the playwright’s credit, she also takes us into the head and thinking of the traumatized Karen. Suffering from PTSD, she often cannot get out of a beanbag chair that makes her look as if she has gone back to the womb for peace. She is a scholarship track star, but she can’t get to class or practice.

The play adds up to a full trip with a rape victim from assault to the end of the play so we can at least begin to understand her victimhood and the avalanche of ways our legal system and society are wired and rigged to put her through as much hell as possible.

This is all to say that this is not, I repeat NOT, a bummer of a play. It might be if your idea of a night out at the theater is a production of Nunsense. But the 80 minutes it takes to better understand this scourge, this emergency, in our midst is worth every minute and then some.

If we are waiting for a mostly white, male, group of wealthy men in Washington to do something about setting a new standard of punishment for sexual assault, we can skip to the next step. After all, look who lives in the White House. Plays like Interference and the people who see them who end up on juries and law enforcement, and who become university officials, are the ones who will make a difference if we are ever to act like a truly evolved people. Right now, we are enabling behavior that is violent and uncivilized and doing damn to little to change it.

Directed deftly by Kaitlyn Valor Bourque, Peck plays Karen with an amazing vulnerability. I can’t imagine what it must take for the actress to live through this for some three or four weekends of performances, plus the rehearsals to prepare for it. She is surrounded by a capable and skilled ensemble of actors playing all the other roles, each playing multiple roles–Kez Settle, Krystle Dellihue, Michael Pacholski, Shane O’Connor, Devin Rosni, Asia Marie Hicks and Dan Tice.

Interference is striking, and it penetrates to our consciences…if we allow it to. And we should.

Click here for show days, times and details.