William Mastrosimone’s Extremities Returns to the Stage
Theatre Review by Roseann Cane
“Extremities” opens with a fresh-faced young woman, the unemployed Marjorie (Molly Camp), lounging about the country cabin she shares with two roommates. There is something restless about Marjorie, even as she attempts to relax in her peaceful home. She flips through magazines and smokes, unable to sit still for long. From her kitchen she brings a plant outside through her unlocked screen door. “God damn it!” she yells abruptly, massaging her calf. She dashes into the kitchen and returns outside with a can of insect spray. She scoops the dead–or dying–wasp with a trowel and brings it inside, delicately transferring it to the ashtray on her coffee table, and thrusts the burning end of her cigarette into the creature.
Before long, a smiling man walks through that screen door, courteously asking to see “Joe.” But the smiling man, Raul (James McMenamin), has another plan; he intends to rape Marjorie, and the cruel, violent attack is breathtakingly difficult to watch, and impossible not to.
Marjorie’s will to survive enables her, suddenly, to seize the can of wasp-killer and spray it directly into Raul’s face, blinding him, disabling him enough for her to trap him in her fireplace. When Marjorie’s roommates Terry (Kelly McCreary) and Patricia (Miriam Silverman) return from work, they are confronted with a scene that makes them question who is really the victim. The life-lenses through which each woman view the situation, and their resentments of each other, come to the fore.
Director Karen Allen is a keen-eyed, masterful director. Her spot-on casting, her unrelenting pacing, and her unfailing grasp of the complexities of human strength and frailty drive this production steadily to its exhausting conclusion. Fight Choreographer Lisa Kopitsky has done a remarkable job; the brutality between the actors is all too sharp and real.
There is no getting around it: Extremities is a brutal play. The original 1980 production saw the actresses playing Marjorie (originally Susan Sarandon, followed by director Allen and Farrah Fawcett) were famously spotted with their hands bandaged and/or in splints. But there is nothing gratuitous in the physical violence we observe. Perhaps it would seem so with a different cast or director, but each character, thanks to the playwright and to these gifted actors, is a fully realized human being, with all of the intricacies and contradictions that come with being human.
What an excellent technical team Extremities boasts. John McDermott’s set is a lovingly crafted cabin; David Murin’s costumes seemed absolutely perfect for each character. Shawn E. Boyle’s lighting design and Scott Killian’s sound were also top-drawer. The only drawbacks, very minor in the scheme of things, were (1) those big brown cigarettes (there are herbal cigarettes and faux cigarettes that look like the real deal) and (2) what was supposed to be white wine looked like water. Minor, as I said, but distracting nonetheless.
I’ve read that Mastrosimone was inspired to write Extremities when a woman he knew was a victim of rape. She did all the “right” things–didn’t fight back, and reported the crime to the police immediately. The charismatic rapist managed to avoid conviction. After he was set free, he told the woman, “If you think this was bad, just wait until next time.” This woman’s life, of course, was never the same. She moved far away, living always in fear and regret, thinking there must have been something she could have done to save herself.
Berkshire Theatre Group presents Extremities by William Mastrosimone, Directed by Karen Allen, Cast: Marjorie: Molly Camp; Terry: Kelly McCreary; Raul: James McMenamin; Patricia: Miriam Silverman. July 11-27 at the Unicorn Theatre, Stockbridge, MA. www.berkshiretheatregroup.org Box Office (413) 298-5576.