Reality Check 

Young theatre troupe Acting Innocent finishes run with a raw and intense show

click to enlarge Savannah Runge and Vaughn Sherman in Acting Innocent’s Really Really.

Gabby Yadagari

Savannah Runge and Vaughn Sherman in Acting Innocent’s Really Really.

A group of young thespians, most of whom were just finishing high school, had the dream—and the nerve—to start a theater company. Over the last several months the Acting Innocent Theatre Company has produced a season of three shows that tackled some heavy-duty issues. That's because they are a "theater for social change," as director Justyn Zeider said in his opening remarks to the audience.

That show, Really Really, by Paul Downs Colaizzo, is a relatively new play by a young playwright. It's raw and disturbing and, although the conclusion is a little too in your face—the actors break the fourth wall and address the audience directly—there is much to deliberate when it's all over.

The story focuses on the aftermath of a wild kegger of a party, at which excesses of all sorts have taken place. These are privileged college students, beginning to be serious about life after college, not fully understanding how that world might work but convinced that they should be able to bend it to their will. What they do know is that whatever they do, they do for themselves with a perfectly normal disregard for others, be they friends or strangers.

They are millennials, proud members of Generation Me, born in the 1980s and 1990s, children of the Me Generation, as some refer to the Boomers coming of age in the 1970s. The millennials have been taught that they are special, that they should believe in themselves. Joel Stein, in a 2013 Time article, said that statistics from the National Institutes of Health show "the incidence of narcissistic personality disorder is nearly three times as high for people in their 20s as for the generation that's now 65 or older, and 58 percent more college students scored higher on a narcissism scale in 2009 than in 1982."

In short, they feel they are entitled. Their moral compass consists of what they determine they must do to ensure their own comfort and success.

Of course, the trouble is that the rest of the world doesn't necessarily agree with that worldview. Self-indulgent liberties taken can often result in problems they have never imagined.

We know there was an incident at the party and that sex was involved, but there is no clarity about what actually happened. The opening scene shows us Leigh (Savannah Runge) and Grace (Stefanie Tedards) banging around their apartment in the dark, drunkenly stumbling around in their short skirts and high heels. There is blood—Grace has cut her hand, it seems, although we later learn that the blood might not belong to her alone. The scene switches to the location of the party, with hungover young men trying to piece together events from the night before.

One event becomes especially troublesome when Leigh claims that she was raped by Davis (Griffin Johnston). For his part, Davis declares he doesn't even remember what happened, but proclaims he is not that guy. Leigh's boyfriend Jimmy (Vaughn Sherman) was out of town the night of the party, and when Leigh tells him what has happened, he is understandably upset and confronts Davis, who is being summoned by the dean's office and is facing possible suspension (though it wasn't clear who reported the incident to the dean).

These characters are not particularly likeable, and just when we think we might get some clarity about their actions, the playwright spins us around into other unpleasant possibilities. Instead of feeling more and more sympathetic for these young characters, we become increasingly put off by them as they each try to manipulate the situation to their benefit, which at times costs them greatly. This is not an easy play to watch.

The Acting Innocent group has done an admirable job of presenting a very unwieldy story, even as the ambiguities grow more complicated. There is one aspect of the situation, though, which is not developed and it's an important one. The matter of the difference in economic status between Davis and his buddies and Leigh and Grace should probably be given much more attention than it receives here. That element has a power that could make the conflicts of the story even stronger.

Also, the appearance of Leigh's sister seems ill-defined, which is less the actor's fault than the playwright's. Haley (Danielle MacInnis) makes a grating, shrill and opportunistic appearance on the scene, but she doesn't fit organically into the story.

All contribute their skills to telling the story well. In particular, Tedard's Grace has us going as she speaks at the Future Leaders of America meeting, extolling the virtues of selfishness.

Part of the identity of Acting Innocent is donating some of their proceeds to various nonprofit groups, and they try to match the group with the subject matter of each play. For this production, they will make a contribution to SACASA, Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault.

Sadly, this is the concluding show, not only of Acting Innocent's season, but of its existence. The friends who have come together to create such an impressive and ambitious entity are leaving town to attend colleges in various parts of the country. But their efforts overall have paid off here.

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