William Mastrosimone’s play “Extremities” is being performed this month by the Greater Orlando Actors Theatre in Winter Park.
WINTER PARK — There’s a moment in William Mastrosimone’s dramatic piece “Extremities” that, in most other productions, would seem like a toss-off line, hardly done for dramatic effect.
In this play, though, the simple exchange between Raul and Patricia instantly grabs you by the throat — and squeezes hard.
Quite simply, Raul eats a piece of bread and describes how good it tastes. He even thanks Patricia for buttering it for him first. That prompts Patricia’s roommate Marjorie to fly off into a rage, and puts an emotionally confused Patricia on the defensive.
And as Raul listens quietly to their pitched argument, you get a very uneasy sense of the dangerous head game that the man is playing.
“Extremities” is a 1982 Off-Broadway play that proved controversial for its main theme, and may be best known for having given the late Farrah Fawcett an opportunity to tackle a stark dramatic role and to prove she could do more than look pretty and hollow on the 1970s schlock series “Charlie’s Angels” (Fawcett also stared in the 1986 movie version.)
The theme that “Extremities” tackles is rape — but not quite in the manner you might initially expect — and certainly not in a kind of sensitive, Lifetime channel movie-of-the-week approach.
Marjorie is alone in her apartment at the start of the play, when a total stranger walks in, asking if a friend of his still lives there. Marjorie has two women roommates, Patricia and Terry, but there are no men living there, she tells the stranger.
At first, Raul keeps trying to start up a friendly conversation. It’s obvious that he’s interested in Marjorie, and hoping that she might be interested in him as well. Marjorie is pleasant enough to him at first, and wearing just a tiny and revealing bathrobe, she even flirts a bit.
But it doesn’t take long for her to decide that Raul is simply too pushy, too eager to close in on her, and she asks him to leave. It’s immediately obvious that Raul has no intention of voluntarily exiting. And when he begins to reveal that he’s been stalking the home, observing the behavior of the three women living there — and that he knew exactly when Marjorie would be alone — she suddenly realizes what incredible danger she’s in.
Raul in fact, is an extremely dangerous sexual predator, who forces Marjorie onto her couch and nearly suffocates her with a pillow until she stops resisting. He’s going to rape her, and possibly beat her as well. As played brilliantly by Stephen Lima, Raul’s pleasant smile and regular guy dialogue masks a horrifying sadist who seems positively thrilled at the terror in Marjorie’s face and voice. Nothing excites him more than to be in command like that, and he’s in no hurry to make this happen. Raul wants to savor every minute of this brutal assault.
And that, as it turns out, becomes his downfall, since it gives Marjorie a tiny window of time to fight back. She grabs a can of insect repellent and sprays him in the face. Temporarily blinded, now it’s Raul’s turn to scream in pain, as Marjorie seizes on the chance to knock him to the floor.
All of this happens within the first 10 minutes of a play that lasts about two hours long, and it’s not hard to see why the piece provoked controversy when it first opened. Anyone who has watched a drama about rape knows it typically shows the crime, then follows the victim as she struggles to cope with the pain and humiliation of the sexual assault she endured, and how she slowly puts her life back together.
In “Extremities,” Raul doesn’t fully get the chance to rape her — Marjorie disables him too quickly. But after tying him up, blinding him with a bandana over his eyes, and sticking him in the fireplace, now the tables have turned. Just as Raul showed no mercy to her, she now returns the favor, hitting him repeatedly with a fireplace poker and threatening to bury him in her back yard, because she has no faith in the justice system to right the wrong he’s done to her.
“Extremities” is now being performed by the Greater Orlando Actors Theatre in Winter Park, in a production that demonstrates that the play is a terrific showcase for talented actors like Lima and Jennifer Bonner, who plays Marjorie. In both cases, the characters change dramatically as the play proceeds.
From the guy who shows up unexpectedly to flirt in a fairly harmless way, only to be unmasked as a sexual deviant, Raul is now the victim here, lying in that fireplace, unable to move. When Terry and Patricia come home, he begs and pleads with them for help. Marjorie, he insists, is the real monster here, the one who attacked him
and now has been beating and torturing him for hours.
In a sense, he’s correct. The rage that overtakes Marjorie is so strong that she’s completely unforgiving — and, in a sense, a bit scary as well. She seems absolutely determined to beat Raul to death and then bury him outside. Her fury is uncontrollable.
And just as Raul’s decision to take his planned rape nice and slow gave Marjorie an opening, so too does Marjorie’s rage give him a possible chance to escape. In moments like the one where he’s eating the bread that Patricia has made for him, he starts an insidious effort to play the women against one another — to invoke sympathy from Patricia or Terry and turn them against Marjorie, who bellows with anger any time they question her motives. Will it work?
And frankly, who should the audience even sympathize with? A rapist who stalks women, but now finds himself a victim of torture and brutality? Or a woman who nearly became a rape victim herself, but now is ready to kill a man out of vengeance?
“Extremities” is not a simple black-and-white look at rape in our society.
The GOAT production, which runs through Jan. 26, expertly uses the talents of both Lima and Bonner to churn the audiences’ emotions and sympathies in a variety of directions. It’s an ugly view of society, but not necessarily one that strikes a false note. The inner demon inside all of us could come exploding to the surface anytime, Mastrosimone seems to be saying, if we get provoked to go there.
And frankly, who are we then?
“Extremities” is being performed on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 8 p.m. at the Creadle Business Center at 2431 Aloma Ave., Suite 300, in Winter Park. Call 407-872-8451 for tickets, which are $18 for general admission and $15 for students and seniors, or log on to GOAT
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