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February 23, 2013

"Really Really" is Actually Really Worth Seeing


It takes both talent and moxie to make it in show business. And Paul Downs Colaizzo, the 27-year-old playwright whose first play Really Really opened at the Lucille Lortel Theatre on Tuesday night, seems to have both.  

According to the several profiles that have already been done on him (click here to read one) Colaizzo had moxie enough to walk up to director David Cromer in the street, strike up a conversation, and, eventually, get Cromer to stage his play’s New York production, with follows its premiere at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, Va. last year. 

And although Really Really is far from perfect (beginning with the vapid title) it shows that its author has got talent too.  And he’s also got something to say, both to and about the members of his generation. 
 
It’s obvious that this is a young writer’s play. It’s occasionally too on-the-nose and not as insightful as it thinks it is. But Colaizzo gets big points for breaking outside the comfy sinecure of domestic drama to take on the issue of class in this country. And although I didn’t agree or like everything he has to say about it, I admire him for speaking up.
 
Colaizzo wrote the first draft of his play while he was still in college at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. It was around the same time that some Duke University lacrosse players were accused—wrongfully, it now seems—of gang raping a woman who’d been hired to perform a strip number at one of their parties and a similarly complicated sexual incident sets off the action in Really Really too.  

It opens with two young women—Grace and Leigh—returning to their dorm room from what seems to have been a boozy college party. The next morning, Leigh, a scholarship student, admits that she had sex with Davis, a rich and hunky good guy on campus, who also happens to be a good friend and teammate of her also wealthy fiancé Jimmy.   

When Jimmy returns from a family vacation, Leigh claims the encounter was rape.  Davis says he was so drunk he can’t remember what happened but insists he’s not the kind to force himself on a girl.  Their mutual friends—a handy cross section of slacker jocks and ambitious geeks—try to get as far away from the mess as they can.  
 
But Colaizzo isn’t really concerned with what actually happened between Leigh and Davis that night. Plot twists constantly switch the audience’s sympathies between them. His real focus is on what’s going on inside this pair and their friends. And by his reckoning, that’s the true scandal. 

For, much like Lena Dunham and her controversial HBO show “Girls,” Colaizzo is tough on his peers, portraying them as total narcissists concerned solely by what they can gain from a situation.  As Grace, president of the school’s Future Leaders of America chapter, says in a speech she delivers directly to the audience, their motto is  “What can I do to get ahead?”  

The "Girls" connection is driven home even more by the fact that one of that show's stars Zosia Mamet (yes, daughter of David, who wrote the he-said-she-said drama Oleana) plays Leigh.  Adding to the production's coolness factor is the presence of Matt Lauria from the cult TV show "Friday Night Lights” as Davis.  

But this is not just stunt casting. Both Mamet (click here to read a Q&A with her) and Lauria are excellent, as is the rest of the seven-member cast. During the talkback that followed the performance my theatergoing buddy Bill and I attended, Colaizzo said he most identified with Johnson, the friend played by the black actor Kobi Libii. So I wish I were going to be there for one of the three performances when the playwright steps into that part while Libii films a TV pilot this weekend.

As always, Cromer is a master at getting his actors to plumb the emotional depths of their characters.  Although I could have done without his decision to have the clunky scene changes in which stagehands come out to push the bulky set around as the action moves back and forth between the students’ apartments.
 
Colaizzo says that Really Really is the first part of a trilogy called “Want, Give, Get.”  The other two are supposedly already written and I’m betting that based on the reception to this one (the show has already been extended until March 24) they’ll get produced.  And I, for one, plan to be there to see them.

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