You will hear, repeatedly, that Really Really—a tautly produced, smartly directed world premiere from 26-year-old writer Paul Downs Colaizzo by way of Signature Theatre—is a bracing, bravura bit of sociological showmanship. You may have heard this already from the paper of record; you will certainly hear it—really, really often—from Signature. Believe it if you like.
But while Colaizzo’s wordsmithery and the craft of cast and crew are considerable, the play itself is a shockingly soulless thing— vulgar and self-indulgent in its nihilism, brutal in its judgments, with no discernible shred of human sympathy for its characters. It’s never a good idea to speculate overmuch on the psychological impulses that drive an artist to create, but it’s Colaizzo’s own generation (roughly) that he’s putting on trial here, and Really Really is enough to make you wonder what the hell they did to the poor guy.
We’re at a college, nameless but apparently lousy with privileged East Coast types, and there’s been a kegger among the rugger-buggers. Two of the more hungover specimens (Evan Casey and Jake Odmark) compare notes on who banged what the previous evening, in language Neil LaBute might blush to put in the mouths of his own heathens. (When Casey’s Cooper isn’t dispensing casual cocksucker putdowns, that is, with that frattish frequency and appetite that always suggests a particular fascination with the subject.) Meanwhile, on the other half of Misha Kachman’s duplexed-apartment set, we’ve seen two young women (Lauren Culpepper and Bethany Anne Lind) stagger home, happily or seemingly so, from a night on the town. One goes to bed, the other lingers and blanches. “Ow,” she says, before the lights go down.
What follows is a two-hour whodunit in which even the “it” remains in question; there’s a charge of rape, and a clear indication that something of a sexual nature did in fact transpire, but between booze blackouts on the one hand and a seriously unreliable narrator on the other, there’s no way—by design—to know what might actually have happened. Which: OK? You’re a clever plot-spinner. Tell me why I should care about the people caught up in it.
I suspect Colaizzo couldn’t if he tried, despite the fresh, inventive hells he puts his characters mercilessly through. In interviews, he’s made much of the fact that Really Really is the sort of play that poses questions and doesn’t offer pat answers. Well and good—for playwrights who can come up with questions interesting enough to chew on for a while. Me, I left feeling distinctly underfed, and with the taste of bile in my throat.
Next Fall By Geoffrey Nauffts Directed by Mark Ramont; At Round House Theatre to Feb. 26
Next Fall cares considerably more about the people tangled up in its blue, though it’s a sort of woe that’ll be a challenge for some to comprehend. The action opens in a hospital, where friends and family are gathering in the wake of an accident: A taxi has struck a young pedestrian (Chris Dinolfo), and the odds of his survival are anyone’s guess.
His long-divorced parents (Kathryn Kelley and Kevin Cutts) have come from Florida; from nearer at hand in New York, an old confidante (Dawn Ursula) and an estranged friend (Alexander Strain). Last to arrive is a distraught man in a periwinkle sweater: Adam (Tom Story), whose relationship to the comatose Luke will be explained in short order, and explored in flashbacks as the evening progresses.
The central question isn’t whether Luke will make it, of course; it’s about how relationships get negotiated, how animal attractions get integrated into lives that encompass other driving impulses, how a want and a belief in conflict get resolved. Those notions are in play for all of the characters, to one extent or another, but most centrally they’re illuminated in the dynamic that emerges between the sweet, sunny Luke—who’s a devout Christian, and scared to come out to his parents—and the somewhat older, differently neurotic Adam, who’s something of a hypochondriac and a caustic self-dramatizer to an extent that would wear down all but the most patient of partners. Their contrasting personalities, and the clash between Luke’s faith and Adam’s cantankerous atheism, are what Nauffts is most interested in interrogating here.
All indications from the play’s celebrated 2009 run at Manhattan’s Naked Angels, where Nauffts was the artistic chief, are that Next Fall benefits from an intimate production and a light touch. Those, alas, are not virtues that Round House Theatre has brought to it; Daniel Conway’s double-turntable set adds fuss and time to scene transitions, and Matthew M. Nielson fills the dead air with sober musical interludes that seem ever more insistently melancholy as the night goes on. And perhaps because the company’s Bethesda space is too big to allow for an immediate connection to the characters, the production’s energy seems a little frantic.
It’s only off-key, though, not off-putting in any way—and the chemistry between Dinolfo and Story, who are partners offstage, makes for a gratifying intensity as the stakes grow higher. By the time Nauffts gets around to calling that life-or-death question, you’ll be invested enough in the outcome to feel everyone’s pain.