Every 98 seconds, someone is sexually assaulted in this country, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. That's 321,500 annual victims of sexual assault, with more than half of those in the 18-34 age range. Those staggering numbers are getting increased attention from the press and law enforcement in the wake of the #MeToo movement.
The epidemic of sexual violence also is getting more attention from artists, including playwright Anna Ziegler. Her 2017 drama, "Actually," made its regional premiere Saturday at the Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company. The play fleshes out the grim statistics with complicated humans. But the case presented by Ziegler is far from black-and-white, although it centers on a white Jewish woman and a black man.
Set at Princeton in 2016, "Actually" revolves around students Amber (Miriam Schwartz), a squash player who speaks multiple languages, and Tom (JuCoby Johnson), a classical pianist who does not seem to know the words please and thank you.
Attracted to each other and juiced by alcohol, they hook up one night. Neither has clear memories of what transpired between them, and both remember it differently.
Tom thinks that things went great and that she's really into him. Amber feels that the night was fraught. "He practically raped me," she tells a friend. Her friend, deeply concerned, files a report.
"Actually" is a 90-minute two-hander that gives us the two parties' back stories, including their sexual histories. The two characters give testimony to a university panel.
The show marks the directorial debut of Harry Waters Jr., who played Belize in the premiere of "Angels in America" and who teaches at Macalester College. He and his team evoke the Princeton campus with brutalist concrete blocks with projected ivy — Michael Hoover designed scenography and Michael Wangen the lights. C. Andrew Mayer created sound design to suggest a college party atmosphere.
Amber and Tom, as played by Schwartz and Johnson, are engaging. The two actors deliver characters who are sympathetic, smart and compelling. They also are strong scene partners, which we only see in brief moments because most of the play is delivered as monologues.
That feels like a cop-out by the playwright, one of several unsatisfying choices.
Amber has blind spots that seem out of character for someone so smart. She tells Tom that he only got into Princeton because of a spot reserved for someone like him. She got in, she says, because of the spot reserved for mediocre squash players. "Has it been very hard for you being black?" she asks.
Assertive but bordering on predatory, Tom, too, has a lot to learn. As he and Amber flirt in the first few minutes of the play, he tells her: "I'm gonna kiss you now." She says, "Oh, OK." Then they make out.
"Actually" is about the many ways in which two young people are awakening.