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A CurtainUp Review
Really Really

" You can't get what you want unless you know what you want."— Cooper

"We will make our way in spite of the fact that the America this generation has been given is not the America that this generation was told we would get. Is this the land of opportunity? No. Now we're dealing with the land of strategy."— Grace, addressing the Future Leaders of America.
Matt Lauria and Zosia Mamet
(Photo credit: Janna Giacoppo)
Grace and Cooper, as well as their fellow undergraduates at an unnamed American college in Paul Downs Colaizzo's Really Really, know what they want all right. If that calls for lies and betrayals, so be it. Maybe. . .hopefully. . . Colaizzo, who's not much older than his attractive looking but unsympathetic characters, has emphasized the worst case scenario in the interest of giving this otherwise depressing Me-I-Generation group portrait some plot twists designed to keep you from wondering if this play is as revelatory and edgy as it wants to be.

This emerging young playwright who seems to be following in the footsteps of Neil Labute, another writer popular with MCC Theater with a penchant for nasty character, has indeed written a play without heroes. Really Really, his New York debut play, skewers his own generation, defining them as a rather dull bunch of young men and women who actually seem to want pretty much what their parents wanted. However, his dramatic critique comes within the context of a who-to-believe- drama. Though the he-said-she-said plot device is somewhat reminiscent of John Patrick Shanley's Doubt (a play Calaizzo says has influenced him enormously), the plotting and characterizations are hardly on that level.

That said, the dialogue does bristle with authenticity and the plot is twisty to the end. Ultimately, it's a play that will leave you processing your own reactions to this dark vision of our current crop of future leaders. I, for one, know quite a few people in this age group who are likeable, admirable, and have more interesting and worthy life goals.

The drama plays out over just a few days in two apartments, each occupied by two seniors. Scenic designer David Korin's decor makes it easy to differentiate between the female and male digs.

The female apartment mates are Grace (Lauren Culpepper) and Leigh (Zosia Mamet, daughter of the author of Oleana, another collegiate who-did-and-said-what). Grace is a church-going pre-law student and president of the college's Future Leaders of America branch. Leigh seems to have a rather old-fashioned view of college as an opportunity to marry someone who can give her a better life than she experienced growing up in a wrong sides of the track environment.

Cooper (David Hull) and Davis (Matt Lauria) who share the other apartment have more in common than Grace and Leigh since they are rugby team mates and both come from prosperous families. Two other rugby playing collegians are Leigh's boyfriend Jimmy (Evan Jonigkeit), who seems rather weirdly over-eager to commit to married life, and the video addicted Johnson (Kobi Libii). The only non-college studet of the 7-member cast is Leigh's crass older sister Haley (Aleque Reid)whose unexpected visit sheds a lot of light on what makes Leigh tick. The actors all portray their characters believably, with Libii and Reid, especially the latter, making the most of the smaller roles.

The character revealing event that turns typical stress about upcoming midterm exams into relationship and life changing high drama is a heavy duty keg party in the guys'apartment. The audience experiences this party as a wordlessly choreographed postscript that shows Grace and Leigh drunkenly stumbling into and around their apartment. Obviously it was quite a party.

When the lights come up for the morning after scene we learn that Leigh's relationship with Jimmy is more than a casual romance. Yet she was at that party even though boyfriend Jimmy was at his rich, religious family's lake house. Unsurprisingly, what did or did not happen between Leigh and Davis at that beer fueled party is the pivot that turns this into a tense Rashomon situation that affects everyone.

The playwright's kinship to Neil LaBute is most evident when the scene shifts from the girls' apartment to the party apartment where the women come in for the kind of nasty profanity we'd all like to think has gone out of style. Davis comes across as more sensitive than Cooper. However, given Colaizzo's determined "surprise characterizations," what appears to be a clearly defined personality profile is certain to be subject to at least some change for the worse by the end of the two hours.

The tasteless macho-ism adds 'an extra dollop of criticism, but the playwright sees both sexes as prototypes for his scolding take on the look-out-for-Number-One generation. That of course includes Zosia Mamet's Leigh and Culpepper's Grace in his putdowns. As Lauria's Davis is the male part requiring the most shading, so does Mamet's Leigh. However, Culpepper, who played Grace previously in Really Really's premiere in Washington, DC, is the one who's more nuanced and entertaining. She's both hilarious and scary as she addresses a group of Future Leaders of America in two very cleverly staged scenes away from the apartments. It's the determined optimism of her two long speeches that sums up Colaizzo's thematic beef with the self-centered determination with which this over-motivated Generation approaches the question "What can I do to get what I want?"

There's little doubt that Grace will move right on to law school and either make partner in a prestigious law firm or win a seat in Congress with the support of the Tea Party. Since Colaizzo makes Grace so forcefully focused, it is more than a small stretch to understand her willingness to live with Leigh who has neither connections or the cache of being a brilliant student to offer (at least as long as she''s not involved in something scandalous)

The production overall benefits from David Cromer's punchy direction and the design team's mostly effective support work — especially Daniel Kluger's propulsive between scenes music. That "mostly" pertains to Mr. Korin's set. It's smartly constructed to move back and forth between the apartments but this tends to make for too busy and distracting scene to scene transitions.

I also question Mr. Cromer's choice of setting one scene at the side of the Lortel's orchestra. This would be fine in a theater with less difficult sight lines, but in this case results in obstructed viewing for a good part of the audience. Still, with this playwright getting a lot of attention during the DC run and with a NYTimes interview prior to the New York opening, maybe there's a plan afoot to take the production to a theater where that aisle scene wouldn't be a problem. The real problem is that Really Really ultimately falls short of being a really really groundbreaking and important play.

Really Really by Paul Downs Colaizzo
Directed by David Cromer
Cast: Matt Lauria (Davis), Zosia Mamet (Leigh), Lauren Culpepper (Grace), David Hull (Cooper), Evan Jonigkeit (Jimmy), Kobi Libii (Johnson) Aleque Reid (Haley).
Sets: David Korins
Costumes: Sarah Laux
Lighting:David Weiner
Sound and Original Composition:Daniel Kluger
Violence Consultant: J. David Brimmer
Make-up: Ashley Ryan
Stage Manager:Davin De Santis
Running Time: 2 hours and 10 minutes, including intermission
MCC at Lortel Theater, Christopher Street
From 1/21/13; opening 2/19/13; closing 3/10/13
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 2/15 press preview
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