Writer: Lia Romeo
Director: Allison Benko
Reviewer: Adrienne Sowers
As part of Project Y Theatre Company’s Women in Theatre Festival, Lia Romeo’s What Happened That Night tackles the challenging subject of gray-area sexual assault. This reviewer knows she cannot divorce her feelings or personal experience from the subject matter at hand, as some audience members may find as well. In light of that, though not in graphic detail, this review may contain details about the assault described in the script, so please consider this a content warning before reading further.
The cast is largely young, playing high school seniors, save one parental role. The actors playing these teenagers bring heart and honesty to rather challenging roles. Romeo’s decision to set the action among high schoolers is a strong one. Young people today have come of age talking about sexual assault in a more open manner, which creates fascinating dynamics – the one character who even hints for a moment that the victim may have brought her assault upon herself is instantly ostracized for doing so. They do not shy away from the word rape. The assailant is written as a bright, caring young man who until the incident has the trust and respect of his peers. Both perpetrator and victim come to a point where they realize they do not know what to call what happened, as they were both deeply drunk (with therefore hazy memories) at the time of the incident, though the victim says she remembers the entire experience being dehumanizing.
The script addresses this tricky subject matter deftly, never exonerating the perpetrator, never sounding like an after-school special, never blaming the victim for drinking. Romeo’s script lies in the uncomfortable gray area and brings the audience along, forcing them to sit in these questions together with the cast. The final message, though not as blatantly stated, is that only yes means yes.
Allison Benko’s simplistically elegant approach to directing allows the talented cast to dive into the text and grapple with it. Michael Fell, Tallie Gabriel, Ellie Gossage, Russell Jordan, and Ed Rosini create strong character relationships and live within the text in a way that makes the play feel immediate and natural. Benko’s guiding hand combined with the actor’s strong performances make Romeo’s play dynamic, challenging, and memorable.
Runs until 24 June 2018 | Image: Clinton B Photography