It's not news that rape is about power, not sex. It is rare, however, to observe that exercise of power and its many ramifications played out in the up-close-and-personal fashion of Dark & Stormy Productions' harrowing, almost voyeuristic staging of "Extremities."
The sense of edgily uncomfortable intimacy begins with the location of the production: a smallish room in the Grain Belt Warehouse that has been repurposed as a performance space. The set, a living room cluttered with the detritus of three roommates and an in-progress painting project, is close enough to touch, while the action often takes place mere inches from front-row audience members.
"Extremities," produced here in a swift 80-minute version (no intermission) that playwright William Mastrosimone has retweaked from his original 1982 script, explodes with physicality almost immediately. Marjorie, played by Sara Marsh, is pottering around watering plants and preparing to resume painting her living room when she's surprised by a stranger who enters through the door she left ajar. Within moments intruder Raul (James Rodríguez) discards his convoluted cover story and launches a brutal rape attempt.
The protracted struggle between the two, undertaken with visceral realism thanks to Annie Enneking's fight choreography, ends with Marjorie managing to subdue Raul and imprison him in the fireplace.
It's at this point that "Extremities" veers into some fairly extreme territory. Marsh ably communicates Marjorie's rage and her competing fear and desire for revenge as she teeters between punishing Raul and believing his assertions that she won't be able to prove attempted rape.
However, the addition of her roommates (Tracey Maloney and Emily Bridges), who return home and dive headfirst into this emotional mix, bring the implausibilities of Mastrosimone's work to the fore. Strong work by Maloney and Bridges isn't enough to make their characters' easy acquiescence to Rodríguez's obvious manipulations believable, while director Mel Day's pacing isn't always swift enough to skate over the gaping credibility holes that open ever wider as the play progresses.
Flaws in the script aside, this production offers plenty of substance as Day and her solid cast explore the dynamics of power and powerlessness through the lens of sexual violence. Marsh's performance in particular is riveting as she cycles through fear, disgust, rage and a host of other emotions over the course of the play, demonstrating in a raw and palpable way the effects of the trauma she's undergoing.
"Extremities" can be a difficult piece to watch, particularly with this intimate, almost in-your-face production, but its emotional heft can't be denied.
Lisa Brock is a Minneapolis writer.