By: Isa Goldberg
Michael Yates Crowley’s new play, The Rape of The Sabine Women, by Grace B. Matthias is another coup from The Playwrights Realm, a company which produces new works by emerging playwrights. Last season, The Wolves, about a girls’ soccer team, was heralded for its strong characters and powerful ensemble acting. This current show, a dark comedy about rape, written by a man, is inventive, and powerful.
It’s titled after Jacques-Luis David’s 18th century painting, The Intervention of The Sabine Women, in which Hersilia defends her Roman abductor against her father’s efforts to protect her. At least, that is the interpretation (Andy Lucien) the high school teacher in this small American town imparts. Why did Hersilia defend the abductor who grabs her from her home, and makes her bare his children? These questions circle around in the production both realistically, and through surrealistic scenes – almost like dream episodes. And, of course, the subject is not just David’s interpretation of this historical event, but also Grace B. Matthias’, sensitively played by Susannah Perkins. As indicated in the title, this is her version of the story.
Indeed, Crowley builds his narrative around a provocative and comic structure. Here, a brylcreem-style news anchor (Chas Carey) reports the news as it happens, parroting the on-stage action. That is, as long as it agrees with societally accepted norms. When it doesn’t, he fails to report. And it’s Grace’s story which he especially avoids, because as an unpopular fifteen-year-old without much family support, no one believes her anyway.
Even worse, she’s made fun of by the boys at school. Bobby (Alex Breaux), the captain of the football team, calls her a pig. Along with his best pal, Jeff (Doug Harris), the two are the lead players for the Romans, the high school football team. As in the titular painting, the Romans turn out to be abductors. When Jeff takes Grace on her first date, they go to the dump, because it’s a place he goes to get away from things, and where he reflects on the underlying filth that perpetuates this small town’s existence.
What starts out innocently turns into an attack when Bobby discovers them. His latent homosexuality, now sorely challenged, causes him to lash out at Grace who becomes Dis-Graced. And to protect herself, she is encouraged to sue Jeff for her rape. Indeed, the boys are found innocent, and Grace the victim, is made to look like the victimizer. To make matters worse, Grace defends her abductor, just like the Sabine women had. She still wants to marry Jeff.
Crowley’s adept sense of comedy and his penchant for lyrical writing are stand-outs of the production. In the end, when Grace delivers her paper about David’s painting, she describes the lineage of women’s rights beginning with the Sabine women who, having been raped by the Roman men, married them, and gave birth to other men, who raped other women, and on and on.
Directed by Tyne Rafaeli, the production runs like a fast-paced comedy, regardless of the fact that the material is so tragic. Still, the story about the radicalization of Grace is poignant, and uplifting. A rewarding evening of theater about a woman who refuses to remain silent.
The Rape of the Sabine Women ****
August 25 – September 23, 2017
The Duke on 42nd Street
229 W. 42nd Street
For Tickets 646- 223- 3010
Photo: Daniel J. Vasquez