Sunday, October 21, 2018

Anna Ziegler’s Smart and Witty “Actually” Intrigues At SD Rep.

On July 25th 2018 Donald Trump said,  “What you're seeing and what you're reading is not what's happening”

Actually, what I saw, or what I thought I saw, in the now very smart and very much in the headlines production of “Actually” by Anna (“The Last Match”) Ziegler at The San Diego Repertory Theatre in the Lyceum Space through Nov. 4th are two seemingly compatible freshmen students, Tom and Emily getting to know about each other as they haunt favorite school hangouts in and around the quad on the Ivy League grounds of Princeton University; and that included a romp in his dorm room, and there in lies the conundrum.
Emily Shain as Amber and DeLeon Dallas as Tom
They agreed to go out. She had her eyes fixed on him from the start. They agreed to go drinking. He was impressed. She insisted they play a game called Two Truths and a Lie. He doesn’t like games but she is certain he will play because  “If you wanna sleep with me tonight, for one thing.”

Did I just hear her say that?

So really, is what I recently saw in “Actually” what I thought I saw or was it the real deal? Should I assume that what she actually said, she said? Did she really take her top off while they were dancing? They both said that in explaining that night. Did what I actually hear about the sleepover really happen? So many questions, so many different answers.

I suppose we could look no further back than to the recent Senate hearings (?) when Christine Blasey Ford accused Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her in 1982 when she was at a high school party and he and his friends attacked her.
Unfortunately, when all was said and done (don’t get me started) it came down to a “He said”, “She said” and who was the most believable.

Actually”: really, truly, essentially, in fact, absolutely, literally.

About three years ago, my now ten year old grandson prefaced every sentence with ‘actually”. I assumed he picked the phrase up in school, liked the sound of it and used it. Upon further questioning he told me that it meant ‘really’.

We know that Amber (Emily Shain) and Tom (DeLeon Dallas) spent a night together. They just have different accounts of how it all went down. They both agreed they had too much to drink. They both remember that Tom’s roommate was in the room.

They both mentioned, he more than she that she threw up all over the floor the next morning. He cleaned it up after she left.  But what happed from the time they entered Tom’s room ‘till the time she left the room after throwing up? They both have very conflicting recollections of whether consent was given or not. To that end, one will be accused of rape.

Zeigler sets us up for this philosophical journey on more than one occasion as both student’s stories zigzag back and forth from one perspective to another in our/their search to find ‘truth’ as we examine all aspects of what happened that fateful night his, hers and ours.

Add to the overall complications of Ziegler’s formula: she is Jewish, talks too much, and is ‘pretty enough’ according to her mother after she asks. He plays a mean piano, is Black, and was that a consideration for his acceptance to Princeton? WOW! Why not just throw the whole ball of wax at us at once in this 90 -minute packed full of contradictions, play?

And so she does!

Under the deft direction of Jesica Prudencio (“Vietgone”) both actors put the medal to the petal as two very savvy competitors in telling what happened to them after that initial meeting.

With nothing but two wooden chairs on Justin Humphries slick floor, sort of an arena looking playground, and dressed in Anastasia Pautova’s comfy looking clothes, each contestant, if you will, moves easily back and forth either sliding past each other in their chairs or walking around the confined space lit by Chris Rynne.

Oft times they crisscross each other in their story telling, stopping occasionally to regroup by holding on to each other, hugging and or kissing (rarely).

Both speak directly to the audience as if trying to convince us of their truth in ‘what happened’ before, during and while they were in Tom’s room. (‘As though we’re at a church service or something’).

Did I mention that the school councilors brought them both in to tell their sides of possible ‘violations of the sexual misconduct violations …in connection with the interactions with his fellow student’?  Was what happened consensual?

With nary a break in the narrative both actors excel in getting their story out often times their overlapping conversations at the end of one sentence is picked up becoming the beginning of another. If we didn't know otherwise we might think they new each other longer than talked about.

Ms. Shain is flighty, easily likeable with every Jewish nuance and tone familiar in the now vernacular. (“A little thing about Judaism? When something good happens to you. You just assume something bad is on the way.”)

Mr. Dallas’ Tom is thoughtful, insightful and careful not to cross any racial lines (You think I’m comfortable in my own body? You don’t know what it’s like to have to be careful”).

It’s an interesting combination of personalities in an otherwise not so whoopee relationship but when the he said, she said accusations hit the fan, (“You are a privileged bitch do you know that?), it doesn’t look good for Tom but no spoilers here. Ziegler is careful to point fingers at both. When all is said and done, you will have to draw your own conclusions.

If you are looking for some great conversation on the way home from the theatre, “Actually” will fill miles of conversation as it examines gender and race politics in a most engaging, smart and witty give and take.

Two thumbs up!

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Nov. 4th
Organization: San Diego Repertory Theatre
Phone: 619-544-1000
Production Type: Comedy/Drama
Where: 79 Horton Plaza, San Diego, CA 92101
Ticket Prices: $25.00-$69.00
Venue: Lyceum Space
Photo: Jim Carmody

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