Molotov Theatre Group sounds like a place where a play might explode. The company’s motto is “Art Imitates Death,” and though that assertion doesn’t make sense to me, it’s true that their production of Extremities, a play by William Mastrosimone which became a movie starring Farah Fawcett, feels dangerous at first.
That feeling comes in part from the venue: rooms above a cigarette emporium on 18th Street in Adams Morgan, subversive-looking rooms where you might find the kind of people who throw jars of gasoline at thoughts and attitudes that occupy the middle of the road.
And it comes in part from the tone of director Michael Wright’s initial comments: “Extremities people!” he shouts. “In a minute I’m going to open this door and take you in, but first I want to tell you not to sit in the front row and not to put anything in the aisles — purses, arms, legs — not anything,” he warns, and then he gazes at each us, to see if anyone looks weak.
But the sense of danger comes primarily from knowing something awful’s going to happen to Marjorie, who is small and sleepy and dissatisfied in a way that makes her seem particularly vulnerable. She’s fresh from bed and barely dressed. For seven or eight minutes, in silence, Marjorie goes through the motions of waking up: she glances at the paper, blows into her mug, and clears her roommate’s breakfast dishes, all the while unaware of 40 people sitting almost at her kitchen table, close enough to smell the lemon in her tea. We watch, and wait, and wish that she were bigger, and that she had on a pair of shoes.
Sherry Berg, who plays Marjorie expertly, has the body of a gymnast — small and tight — while Alex Zavistovich, who plays Ray, has the body of a pinball player — large and loose. You feel a little sick about how easy it will be for him to hurt her. And you know that he will.
Zavistovich is one of the company’s founding co-artistic directors, and the program says that he has played a psychotic necrophiliac, two different scum bags, a horny douchebag, and a masturbating lunatic.
At first he speaks to Marjorie politely, asking for a guy named Joe, who doesn’t live there, then asking to use the phone, then bumbling into oafish conversation, nothing ominous in manner even after he sits down. She tells him that her husband, who’s a cop, is upstairs sleeping, and he says, “Well, call him down,” as if he’d like to make another friend.
“Honey,” she calls up the stairs. “Honey!”
“Honey!” Ray suddenly bellows, in a voice that’s suddenly completely evil. The change happens so fast that it scares you. And you start to think about the things a theater in a better venue couldn’t put on stage.
Some of that stuff happens in the first scene: Ray grabs her, throws her, paws her, lies on top of her, licks her freckles, makes her touch his hair, his neck, his face, and then makes her say that she’s his whore while he works his own crotch.
You wish that you could look away.
Closes November 3, 2013
Molotov Theatre Group at
DC Arts Center
2438 18th Street NW
1 hour, 20 minutes, no intermission
Thursdays thru Sundays
In the end, the play is not as messy as it might be. For fifteen minutes, for as long as Ray and Marjorie are in the room alone, it’s disturbing. But when Marjorie’s roommates (played by Jennifer Osborn, and Alexia Poe) come home, the danger passes immediately, and the tension dies. At that point the focus shifts from visceral reactions to consideration of an ethical dilemma – should they kill him or not – which may be engaging in its own right, maybe even more engaging for some, but it doesn’t make you flinch. And the part of me that wishes it could look away is not adept at moral subtlety and the play lost its hold on me.
Extremities by William Mastrosimone. Directed by Michael Wright. Featuring Sherry Berg, Alex Zavistovich, Jennifer Osborn, Alexia Poe. Lighting Design: Matt Vossekuil. Produced by Molotov Theater. Reviewed by Mark Dewey.