What happens when you combine a group of rich white rugby-playing college boys and their nerdy, hardworking ethnic friend together with an overly ambitious, trailer trash white girl and her (also white) Future Leader of America roommate? You get a highly stereotypical, particularly niche-oriented play with selfish, unlovable characters and near-offensive plot twists. With some really, really good acting thrown in.
27 year-old NYU graduate Paul Downs Colaizzo’s generational play Really Really made its New York City debut on Tuesday at the Lortel Theatre, directed by David Cromer. Headlining the play is Zosia Mamet of HBO’s Girls, who plays the ill-fated Leigh, a 20-something college student with questionable morals and an aptitude for deception. Devotees of Girls may be surprised to see Mamet in such a different role, a far cry from the bubbly, sweet Shoshanna, with an insatiable hunger for success.
The play opens in a dark apartment. Leigh and her roommate Grace (Lauren Culpepper) are heaving from drunken laughter at the front door, clutching at their purses and at each other, unable to take another step forward in their 5-inch heels. Grace’s hand is cut and bleeding from an injury we later discover resulted from an embarrassing display of drunken debauchery in front of bottle-filled garbage bins. As Grace begins to disrobe on stage, Leigh slowly inches her way to the sofa, closing the scene alone in the dark, uttering a hauntingly painful “Ow.” We are left to wonder what exactly is wrong with Leigh. Is hers an emotional or physical wound?
Next we are introduced to Cooper (David Hull), Davis (Matt Lauria), and Johnson (Kobi Libii), three college boys trying to make their way through their last semester of classes. Cooper and Davis (the roommates) are recovering from a party the night before, where Cooper heard Davis having sex with someone in his room. In a manner only describable as bro douchery, Cooper and Johnson bully Davis into telling them that the girl he was with was Leigh, though he was drunk and doesn’t remember a thing. The plot thickens when it is discovered that Leigh is dating their friend and fellow member of the Rugby team Jimmy (Evan Jonigkeit).
What ensues is a drama about sexuality, loyalty, and the bond between friends and family. The veneer is drawn back from the lives of these ambitious young people to reveal the ugly side of “Generation Me,” or Generation—as Culpepper describes it at a Future Leaders of America conference—“how do I get what I want?”
The problem with the production is that it is difficult to empathize with any of the characters in Colaizzo’s play. Instead of taking Culpepper’s (extremely well-delivered) speech seriously, the audience can’t help but make fun of her as a ridiculous caricature of a privileged generation.
Cooper is an arrogant jock who wants to stay in school forever, Johnson is a selfish, academic who only cares about getting a good job and is a bad friend, while the most empathetic character, Davis, ends up being a violent dimwit. To top it off, the protagonist, Leigh, whom we want to care for as a victim, ends up being a golddigger (someone who her trashy older sister Haley—played by Aleque Reid—looks up to), only interested in what the extremely wealthy Jimmy can offer her.
The play only gets “real” when it is revealed that Leigh might or might not have been raped by Davis. However, instead of this revelation being an exploration of genuine emotion and a critique of rape in college campuses (which is a very real concern), the audience is left feeling like Leigh—the “poor girl that is almost beautiful”—whom the other characters label as a slut, deserves what she gets.
To label this play an accurate depiction of the state of “this” generation is problematic. The extremely talented group of actors (especially Mamet and Culpepper) redeems this comedic tragedy by making it an extremely well-performed production. However, the inability of the play to reach a level of truth and honesty that is touching and enlightening is frustrating.