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A CurtainUp Review
The Rape of the Sabine Women by Grace B. Matthias
By Elyse Sommer
This season the Duke stage is set up as a high school auditorium and focuses on a sensitive but unpopular teen age girl's rape and its aftermath. Though the program cover screams out that troubling event and sports the by-line of the rape victim, it's written by Michael Yates Crowley, a gay man. It's a flawed but fascinating play thanks to lively staging and an emotionally potent performance by Susannah Perkins.
There have been numerous paintings depicting the long ago capture and forcible marriage of Sabine women by Roman warriors has been the subject of many paintings, notably "The Abduction of the Sabine Women by Nicolas Poussin and "The Rape of the Sabine Women" by Peter Paul Rubens, both living in the 17th Century. Michael Yates Crowley's play uses the Rubens painting for its title and credits his main character, Grace B. Mathias (Susannah Perkins), as the author.
Grace's art teacher (Andy Lucien) at Springfield High School thought Jacques-Louis David's "The Intervention of the Sabine Women" which depicted the Sabines making peace with their captors provided a better way to introduce his assignment to write an essay about a famous painting. But while the teacher didn't intend the David painting to be the subject of their papers but as getting them acquainted with at least two paintings — the David he showed them and the one they would write about. Given the level of intellectual curiosity in this football enamored town somewhere in America's heartland.
Between that classroom discussion day and the handing in of the term papers, Grace becomes traumatized during a date with football player and classmate Jeff (Doug Harris). Despite Mr. Crowley's mixing in what he considers a necessary spoonful of laughter with that harrowing event, the aftermath is also more painful than funny: The lack of support from separated, unavailable parents. . . the relentless publicity from a local newscaster (Chas Carey). . . unhelpful advice from a clueless guidance counselor (Eva Kaminsky) and ditzy cheerleader friend Monica (Jeena Yi) . . . coaching by a greedy lawyer (Jeff Biehl) for the rape trial of Jeff and his nasty closeted gay pal Bobby (Alex Breaux)
Thus what helps Grace to ultimately survive stronger than before is the ancient Sabines myth. At first she follows what "The Intervention of the Sabine Women" implies. She tries to meet and forgive Jeff. Unfortunately, and with fairly predictable input from everyone, this misfires. We see the all too familiar pattern of double victimization play out with condemnation of Grace intensified by anger about the much publicized trial has put a crimp in the season of the football team.
The team's name, The Romans, illustrate Mr. Crawley's affinity for symbolism. His indulgence in metaphors is even more obvious in Grace's mounting obsession with becoming a female fire fighter establishing a symbolic path towards her ultimate manifesto about putting out the fires that keep burning in the men women marry and the sons they bear.
The satirical misfires and metaphorical overkill notwithstanding, Director Tyne Rafaeli makes very effective use of Arnulfo Maldonado's spare auditorium set, especially when that blue curtain on the raised platform parts for some around town scenes. The most memorable of these Grace and Jeff's date that takes them to a swimming hole. It's a lovely moment that veers into horror territory with the arrival of Bobby, the play's real villain.
Rafaeli also helps the various ensemble members smoothly transition into double cast roles. However, the one really rounded and real character is Grace and Susannah Perkins is the undisputed star of this enterprise. Look for her during next year's awards season.
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The Rape of the Sabine Women by by Grace B. Matthias
Playwright: Michael Yates Crowley
Director: Tyne Rafaeli
Cast: Jeff Biehl (The Lawyer,etc), Chas Carey (The News), Doug Harris (Jeff), Eva Kaminsky (The Guidance Counselor,etc), Andy Lucien (The Teacher, etc), Susannah Perkins (Grace), Jeena Yi (Monica)
Sets: Arnulfo Maldonado
Costumes: Asta Bennie Hostetter
Lighting: Barbara Samuels
Sound: Mikaal Sulaiman
Props: Anna Demenkoff
Fight direction: Michael Rossmy
Stage Manager: Chris De Camilis
Running Time: 1 hour and 40 minutes
Playwrights Realm at the Duke on 42nd Street
From 8/25/17; opening 9/10/17; closing 9/23/17
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer on 9/12/17
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