Who knows for sure what really happened when sexual assault is the charge and impetuous youth, just out to have a good time, are exploring the possibilities? Good Kids, presented by the University of Maryland’s School of Theatre, Dance and Performance Studies, is a timely conversation that push-pulls forward the national debate about sexual assault on college campuses. Written by award-winning playwright Naomi Iizuka and under the direction of Seret Scott, Good Kids, poses more questions than it answers but poignantly makes the case that finding the answers we must, in a society currently under siege by the harmful fallout from rape culture.
Based loosely on the 2012 Steubenville High School rape case, the story line for Good Kids could have taken place on any high school or college campus today: Girl gets drunk at a party, hops into a car with four dudes, and heads out to another house party where, in an unconscious state of inebriated vulnerability, becomes the victim of sexual assault. Dudes insist they were all just having a good time. Then the cover-up begins– but not until social media intersects with the truth in discerning, “When is it rape?”
Facebook, Twitter, text messages, and Instagram take on a juror’s role in the court of public opinion. Did Chloe (Antonella Perez Fererro), in an alcoholic stupor, get exactly what she was asking for, or were Ty (Avery Collins), star football player Connor (Tom Frances) and not-so-innocent bystanders Tanner (Philip Kershaw) and Landon (Weilong Li), whose smart phone videos captured the whole thing, right to allege that, “It was not what it looked like”. In emotional rewind and fast forward narrations, wheel-chair bound Deirdre, intelligently portrayed by Marina Di Marzo with the high watch fervor of a wise adjudicator, and Lara Fu’s magnetic performance as Skyler, played with acerbic wit with a Goth twist, gave their own personal definitions to Truth Teller, daring the audience to do the same.
Some of the program notes’ hard cold, facts about sexual assault are a disturbing undercurrent to the production: “Two-thirds of all rape cases leave no visible physical evidence or injury. Only 15 to 30 percent of all incidents of sexual assault are reported. An even lower percent are prosecuted. Two-thirds of identified rapists are people known to the victim. The highest rates of sexual assault occur between the ages of 17 and 24.”
What comes across without debate in the thought-proving themes of Good Kids are the social challenges facing today’s youth: Hook-up culture and friends with benefits that fail to deliver; fake intimacy created by addictive social media communication; mean girls who bully other girls; easy access to alcohol that lowers inhibitions but raises the stakes for vulnerability; the supremacy of sports culture that jacks-up jocks to invulnerability; a patriarchal society of inequality that continues to objectify women; and an over sexualized reality TV culture that fuels a rape culture which victimizes the victim and sensationalizes the perpetrator. Is it any wonder that we ponder and try to protect the idea of what constitutes “good kids”?
Setting the scene is Katie Sullivan’s creatively successful set design of an urban street environment under a city street bridge with mile-high pylons and concrete jungle boulders and benches. Costume Designer Marci Rodger’s modern street fare lends the right combination of guy and girl tops and bottoms complete with too-short shorts worn by party-girl Chloe. Dramatic lighting conveys the emotional meaning of the moment under the fine direction of Alberto Segarra while projectionist Ian McClain adds clever CNN and MSNB flashback moments to real-life media coverage of the Steubenville rape disaster.
The ensemble is professional to the hilt and their well-rehearsed characterizations give sensitive sensibility to a difficult and complex topic. Individual name recognition is merited for the terrific work delivered by this talented group of dedicated thespians: Briana (Monica Albizo) Madison (Caren Bermudez), Kylie (Jocelyn Brocato), Ty (Avery Collins), Deirdre (Marina di Marzo), Connor (Tom Frances), Skyler (Lara Fu), Ensemble (William Jeffreys), Tanner (Philip Kershaw), Landon (Weilong Li), Chloe ( Antonella Perez Fererro), Daphne (Hannah Syverson, Ensemble (Tyasia Velines).
Good Kids is a shot of adrenaline that fuels a touchy discussion which should be happening on more college campuses nowadays. Give a shout out to UMD’s School of Theatre, Dance and Performance Studies for not being afraid to tackle the tough issues by going to see Good Kids. They make us think, they make us blink and hopefully, they make us change.
Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.
Good Kids plays through March 7, 2015 at Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center – 3800 Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the intersection of Stadium Drive and Route 193 (University Boulevard), at University of Maryland in College Park, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 405.ARTS (2787), or purchase them online.