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Going to Extremes

Company 13 Lives Up to its Gritty Ambitions With Unnerving Extremities

Pinned: Wayne Willinger and Eve Rounds wrestle with big issues.

By John Barry | Posted 1/28/2004

Extremities

William Mastrosimone

The sofas at The Top Floor are notoriously comfortable, but don't worry about falling asleep during Extremities. This in-your-face play about a sexual attacker stretches the limits of what theater can show onstage. It made waves off Broadway, and turned into a Farrah Fawcett vehicle in the mid-1980s. In its small, cozy venue on Harford Road, this Company 13 production has an edge all its own: It is like watching an attempted rape in your own living room.

The play opens with a young blonde lounging around in her negligee and bathrobe. A large, thuggish man named Raul (Wayne Willinger), complete with ripped T-shirt, barges in and tells her he's looking for Joe, who owes him money. Marjorie (Eve Rounds) tells him that if he doesn't leave, she's going to call for her husband, the police officer, who is sleeping in the upstairs bedroom. Joe doesn't exist, and neither does the police-officer husband. Raul rips the phone off the wall and proceeds to assault Marjorie.

Company 13 definitely lives up to the "Young, Brash, Unafraid" label that its members claim as their trademark. The intensity of that moment carries the play, as the rapist (nicknamed "Animal") corners Marjorie with threats, pleas, date-rape lines, and brute force.

Eventually, Marjorie manages to wrest herself from Raul's grip; he's bound and blindfolded and tied up in the fireplace. Then Marjorie's housemates enter the scene, and things shift to a more insidious mode. We become aware of Raul as a sort of Hannibal Lecter: charming, but willing to bite any hand that gets too close. He may be tied up, blinded by weedkiller, and sitting in the fireplace, but still no one knows what to do with him.

Willinger's portrayal of Animal is more thuggish than evil. In addition to being a serial rapist, Raul's a serial liar, and the play's tension rises as the women prod him (literally) for clues as to who he is and what he's done. He clams up effectively, taunting them with comically absurd alibis: that he's a Good Humor man, a debt collector, a sewer repairman.

It may sound like an opportunity for a little female bonding, but that's not where Extremities is headed. Instead, the housemates tangle themselves in recriminations, petty jealousies, and their own priorities. Marjorie for one claims she's ready to bury him alive, but the promise rings hollow: She's more afraid than angry. Terry (Dana Peterson) doesn't much care what happens, because she learns that Marjorie has been sleeping with her boyfriend. And Patricia (Jessica Bounelis), the smart one, tries to get everyone to sit down and discuss things over wine. In this production, at least, the dominant reaction to the situation is bewilderment. Anger seems almost an afterthought.

In essence, Extremities is about entrapment. The physical presence of the rapist, who is in the play from beginning to end, hovers over the play as an oppressive force, a reminder that whatever these women decide to do, there is no appropriate response to this sort of assault. At points it becomes such a dominant part of the play that one wishes either they'd untie him or knock him on the head. At other points the play is overcome by a dark humor, particularly as the maternal instincts of the victims start to manifest themselves. Given this reactive dynamic, Extremities doesn't give its characters much room to maneuver. But in a provocative, unsentimental way, it gives us a lot to think about.

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