What if an attempted rape cannot be proven? What if, by the time any witnesses show, the attacker appears the bloodied, tied-up victim, and the victim seems to have become the ruthless, crazed attacker? Such is the topic of William Mastrosimone’s play Extremities, which is currently being staged by Sofa Productions as part of the Camden Fringe.
Marjorie (Karen Olrich-White), Terry (Madeleine Meurman) and Patricia (Sarah Moon) are flatmates living in a secluded countryside house in New Jersey. It’s the 1980s, shown in this relatively minimalistic yet resourceful studio production through a box of Lucky Charms cereal and an 80s radio dotted amongst the older bamboo furniture. Once Terry and Patricia have left for work, Raul (Adrian Gawell) – a stranger who has been stalking the women – enters the property uninvited and with every intention of raping Marjorie. This leads to an exquisitely directed battle between the two – a harrowing sequence in which Olrich-White and Gawell both give stunning physical performances. The focus, however, is Marjorie’s subsequent actions and the reactions of her flatmates, and it’s not giving away the plot to say that Marjorie frees herself and turns the tables on Raul in a vaguely Tarantino-esque revenge sequence whereby we see her tugging on the telephone cable she’s tied around Raul’s neck, whilst he continues to cling viciously and desperately to clumps of her hair.
Mastrosimone’s play speaks damning truths about the 80s judicial system in the United States and its lack of sympathy for victims of attempted sexual assault. The unlikelihood of Marjorie’s case standing up in court due to her insufficient evidence, frequently and poignantly becomes the focus of the dialogue. However the jibing between the women, once Raul reveals some damaging secrets about their relationship with one another, is frustrating and dispiriting to a contemporary audience expecting girl power and fierce sisterhood in the given situation – and these conversations form the weaker parts of the narrative. Similarly, smatterings of clichéd lines, plodding scenes and Meurman’s monotonal whines as Terry are detracting and irritating.
On the whole, however, Sofa Productions bring impressive theatrical touches to Extremities: the freeze frame, blinking light sequences in which the three female characters are momentarily captured to the sound of a Polaroid camera at the beginning of the play, ties in neatly to Raul’s final revelation. The smooth appliance of fake blood to the wounded during fight scenes is also impressive, as is the beautifully framed moment in which Raul is chained and huddled behind a bike in the fireplace, as Marjorie towers over him holding a hammer to his head. Marjorie is a victim with a taste for revenge; she wants Raul to “hurt like (she) did.” The question is: would her flatmates have shown more sympathy had they returned home to her body?
Extremities played Theatro Technis until 28 August 2016. For more information see the Theatro Technis website.