What do you expect when you see a play called Rage? Yelling? Violence? Gunshots? Ambassador Theater’s US premiere of Rage by Canadian playwright Michele Riml definitely delivers there. But the play also delivers a philosophical discussion from two characters with polar opposite opinions on violence, two characters who are familiar in the DC area.
When you first enter the Flashpoint DC space, you can tell exactly what set and lighting designer Jonathan Rushbrook was trying to convey: a crappy back office in a public school. Spartan lighting gives the fluorescent wash that is normally avoided onstage, but is perfect for a school setting. Specifically, and familiarly to everyone who went to public school, we’re in the guidance counselor’s office, replete with barely painted cement block walls, file cabinets, and embarrassing inspirational posters.
This guidance counselor, Laura Whalen, is a typical figure in the position, as my DC public school veteran said “one of those well-meaning Teach for America do-gooders,” and this shoe fits Laura pretty snugly.
The end of her day is interrupted by the title character. But the title of the play is Rage, isn’t it? Indeed it is. Rage is the nickname of Raymond Stitt, an atypically intelligent but immature high schooler whose nickname comes from his tendency to, in his own words, “go off.”
We’ve all seen this teenager, and some of us have even been him. But his violent screaming, and (perhaps most disturbingly) sympathetic History presentation on Hitler has left him one guidance counselor meeting away from expulsion. This play is that meeting.
The nature of the meeting, and thus the play, boils down to an argument between Raymond and Laura on the nature of violence and pacifism. Laura, a pacifist who has until this meeting not had her ideals truly tested, is confronted with a choice of violence to herself or her student by Raymond, who idealizes the change that violence can inflict (but who has not seen enough of the real world to understand truly the consequences of rage). Essentially, Rage is a play about the relationship between an aggressive, yet immature, hostage-taker and his pacifist hostage.
That difference and its dialectic fairly sums up the content of the play, and that is a problem. The stakes are raised at intervals throughout the play, and the playwright has figured out a great ending worth discussing on the ride home from the theater. The slowly revealed backgrounds of the characters do well to develop and create subtleties in characterization. But the arguments and connected moments, the beats and action of the play, are repetitive. Besides a single satisfying moment for Laura, the same arguments and tactics cycle back on themselves over and over. I feel like this play could have been a half hour shorter and not lost much.
But this flaw is one of playwriting rather than directing, acting or design. Joe Banno’s direction deftly uses every part of the tight stage finding novel levels and angles while playing with perspective. Each of the actors embody their parts well, especially Marlowe Vilchez, who captures the sullenness and sophomoric intelligence of a 17 year old absolutely perfectly. Ariana Almajan’s Laura Whalen is vibrant with energy, and her precise hits on a variety of emotions contrasts well with Raymond’s constantly assaulting demeanor. Rage mirrors Raymond’s demeanor in its relentless pushing and tweaking of the conflict between pacifism and aggression.
Closes November 16, 2014
Mead Theatre Lab at
916 G St NW Washington
1 hour, 30 minutes, no intermission
Tickets: $20 – $35
Wednesdays thru Sundays
I’m not sure if it was because of this relentlessness or because of the high intensity of emotions throughout the piece or because of the interesting ending or all of these things, but I was emotionally drained when I left the theater. This is actually a great thing, especially for a drama like Rage that has a thriller quality to it. A drained feeling means that it was easy to invest emotionally and intellectually into the play, despite occasional moments of eye-glazing during repetitions. The play is easy to invest in not only because of the fine acting and direction but also because of the immediate impact and reality of the scenario, if not individual moments. Violence, especially gun violence (and more especially gun violence in schools), is a constant spectre in America, and America’s constant search for answers to that violence demands that theaters produce plays like Rage.
This play is rare in that it gives a well-characterized look into the kind of mind that perpetrates that kind of violence without resorting to stereotype or polemic. I recommend this play for people who want to see theater that explores social problems of violence in a well-acted and well-directed package. Then you can have your own philosophical discussion of violence, hopefully without gunshots.
Rage by Michele Riml . Directed by Joe Banno . Featuring: Ariana Almajan and Marlowe Vilchez . Set and Lights: Jonathan Rushbrook assisted by Rachael Knoblach . Sound: George Gordon . Costumes: Sigridur Johannesdottir . Fight director: Cliff Williams . Stage Management: Anna Klamczynska . Produced by Ambassador Theater . Reviewed by Alan Katz.
Closes Nov 16
Elizabeth Bruce . BroadwayWorld rarely is the anguished reasoning of disaffected and marginalized youth presented as clearly and articulately as it is in RAGE,
Celia Wren . Washington Post sometimes feels like a thought experiment shoehorned into the limelight.
Robert Michael Oliver . DCMetroTheaterArts Both actors do a fantastic job navigating the emotional rollercoaster that is Rage