Really Really

If plays are judged by the sheer force of their emotional impact, Really Really – the world premiere of playwright Paul Colaizzo’s contemporary, college-set drama, now playing at Signature Theatre – is an unvarnished success. This is a play of such raw intensity that you’ll be afraid to blink for fear of missing something.

Jake Odmark as Davis and Evan Casey as Cooper (Photo: Scott Suchman)

Really Really is pointedly set “now,” on a college campus, and its concerns are the concerns of a young, careless group of graduating students that aspires – in the most hateful, self-absorbed way imaginable – to outdo their peers and accomplish their dreams. The majority of its twisty storyline is best left unspoiled, but the play centers on the immediate aftermath of a single, dramatic transgression at a wild college party, with substantial ramifications for everyone involved. “Nice guy” athlete Davis (Jake Odmark), still mourning a breakup, is needled by roommate Cooper (Evan Casey) about an apparent drunken tryst with Leigh (Bethany Anne Lind) the girlfriend of a mutual friend. Across campus, Leigh is processing the prior night’s events with roommate Grace (Lauren Culpepper) – and harboring several secrets of her own.

Though each character has a unique perspective on the night and what it means, their interpretations have one universal thing in common: complete and utter self-absorption. No one is interested in what actually happened that night, but everyone is interested in what it means for their own lives. “You can’t get what you want unless you know what you want,” says Cooper, which could double as a kind of guiding principle for each of Really Really’s characters.

Danny Gavigan as Jimmy and Bethany Anne Lind as Leigh (Photo: Scott Suchman)

Everyone here knows exactly what they want – and will do whatever it takes to ensure they get it. Colaizzo has described John Patrick Shanley’s Tony and Pulitzer-winning Doubt as his first theatrical “obsession,” and it’s a play from which Really Really draws very apparent inspiration. Colaizzo has learned from Doubt’s greatest strengths – its crackling dialogue, its self-interested characters, the reliance of its plot on perception and hearsay – and applied those same dramatic principles to a story about the present (which also has troubling implications for the future).

Really Really succeeds, in part, because it understands the symbols and trappings of Generation Me. Colaizzo (a self-acknowledge member), began writing Really Really while he was still in college, and it shows. The play’s spot-on dorm set features an XBOX 360, a “Boondock Saints” poster, and the casual detritus of empty Yeungling bottles and PBR cans. The characters slangily abbreviate words (tellingly, the word “jealousy” is thrown around so often it becomes “jel”). Tentative, grasping attempts to express real emotion are dismissed out of hand as “gay.” Grace, addressing (and thereby implicating) the audience as the “Future Leaders of America”, attempts to sell us on the virtue of Generation Me’s “healthy selfishness” and almost succeeds.

Unfortunately, after its all-but-unimpeachable first act, Really Really doesn’t quite stick the landing. The second act opens by introducing a new cleverly written character, well-played by Kim Rosen, who nevertheless feels as though she’s stumbled into Really Really from an earlier, more comedic draft of the play. And Really Really’s final scenes depend on a final plot twist between Leigh and Davis that the two actors, despite their consistently strong performances, can’t quite manage to sell.

Lauren Culpepper as Grace (Photo: Scott Suchman)

And then there’s the ending, which puts several unnecessary exclamation points on a sentence that Really Really has already convincingly written. As the final betrayals pile up, Really Really departs from the play’s earlier transgressions, which were muddled and suggested off-stage, for a front-and-center transgression that is extremely graphic and unmistakable. (This is where the play earns its “mature audiences only” warning, which should absolutely be heeded). It’s impossible not to be affected by the scene on an emotional level, but it feels less like the coherent progression of the play’s action and more like Colaizzo’s effort to make sure the audience understands the point he’s trying to make.

He needn’t have bothered – the rest of the play successfully made his case in a much subtler, much more powerful way. The ending may be a misfire, but, fortunately,  it certainly doesn’t spoil the play. Taken as a whole, Really Really is a disturbing, sharply-observed skewering of Generation Me – another strong production from Signature Theatre, and a debut which firmly establishes Colaizzo as a powerful new theatrical voice. This is a play that demands your attention, and a play that deserves it.

Really Really runs thru March 25, 2012 at Signature Theatre, 4200 Cambell Avenue Arlington, VA.

Really Really

Written by Paul Downs Colaizzo
Directed by Matthew Gardiner
Produced by Signature Theatre
Reviewed by Scott Meslow


Running Time: 2 hours with one intermission


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