It really is better today when self-diagnosed victims find support to speak out and seek redress. But there was a time when simpler processes, conducted with more privacy and understanding, could bring acceptable results too.
Well, as they say in racing, different horses for different tracks. The world we live in today has an evolving set of rules that process must scramble to enforce.
These sad musings are inspired by Anna Ziegler’s play Actually, now at the San Diego Repertory Theatre. It is a work very much of today, seeming almost plugged into the cable newsfeed.
Two nice kids, the kind we will need, in their maturity, to wrestle with a world being so scuffed up by present greed and vanity, meet during their first week of college. The scene is a mind-numbing, booze-soaked blur of urgent decisions amidst demanding distractions. Mistakes are made, quite understandingly as Ziegler so vividly displays, and lines are crossed which trigger grim processes of very doubtful benefit to anybody.
Sex was done. Was it consensual? That is the question that Princeton University feels obligated to address before any further learning can commence. The implication is that somebody’s life probably will be ruined even though a productive resolution still hovers there somewhere through the miasma of growing complications.
Ziegler sets up the conflict with all the social buttons armed and ready for the nice Jewish girl who’s smart but talks too much and only is, as her mother says, “just pretty enough,” tossed into a torrent of new experiences; the African-American boy from the ‘hood, brilliant (this is Princeton) but un-mentored and somewhat awed by the riches suddenly spread before him.
In addition to the race and sex things, there also are gay, academic, alcoholic, economic, social, gender, familial …just about every department of concern except (thank goodness) politics. There’s even a sudden case of cancer, which gets lost in the melee, along with Bartok and Mozart.
Still, the author has given each of the kids a completely believable set of perceptions and reactions. The whole thing can be decided by some ephemeral factor as light as – remember this – a feather.
That’s what urged me to push this situation back a few decades to see what my remembered experiences might have for comparison.
Well, for one thing, contraceptives. The result of careless copulation was far more the fatal threat then. So, society had developed a more paternal approach to social justice with – yes, yes, I understand – results far from universally fair. So now, we’ve traded increased fairness for a much more complicated process of compliance, one that may be just as subject to abuses as were the earlier attempts.
Ziegler doesn’t solve this dilemma but deserves commendation for presenting it with the questions addressed efficiently as both rational and emotional, even though she does sag at the end.
The Rep’s production respects the play’s primacy of ideas over actions in its austere simplicity: A large blank stage, a couple of wooden chairs and a lot of vertical and horizonal beams of light by Chris Rynne (some in emphatic blue and orange).
Given two actors, lots of empty space, 90 minutes and endless dialogue, director Jesca Prudencio has mostly let the words do the work, helping her cast find accuracy and focus.
Emily Shain is more adroit with the inevitable clichés and the constant turmoil of the newcomer, keeping the confusion sorted into categories, but DeLeon Dallas is more appealing in his struggle to maintain dignity in a world so engulfing with new stimuli. Although neither he nor the author overexploit the backstory, it is always there with its appalling challenges.
As is the whole show, for that matter.
But it should be remembered, for those tempted to think back on transgressions of the past, that the rules really are different now.
(Continues in the Lyceum Space downtown at 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; at 7 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Oct. 21, 24, 30 and 31; and at 2 p.m. Saturdays, Sundays, Oct. 27 and Nov. 3, through Nov. 3, 2018.)