NEW YORK—”Stet” is a play about sexual misconduct in colleges and the handling of such reports by journalists; also, the efficacy or failure of investigations by college administrators and police departments to punish perpetrators and supply justice to the victims.
Although, judging by recent news stories, there has been some progress in this area, inasmuch as some violators have received prison sentences, the sentences have been generally viewed as insufficient given the severity of the crime of rape.
Several of my journalist colleagues have made much of the fact that the play by Kim Davies—developed by Davies, actress Jocelyn Kuritsky, and director Tony Speciale—was based on the November 2014 article in Rolling Stone magazine titled “Rape on Campus.” The article was subsequently retracted due to inaccuracies in reporting. The implication being that perhaps “Stet” is likewise inaccurate.
To my mind, that is neither here nor there. “Stet” is a play, a dramatized entity; it is neither a documentary nor even a docudrama. It very possibly is an amalgam of several true incidents or even fictionalized incidents merged together to make certain potent points by creating a cohesive whole to be enacted on a stage.
I found the play to be as timely as today’s headlines and thoroughly engrossing.
Journalist Erika (Jocelyn Kuritsky), who writes for an unnamed (implied major) magazine, is approached by her editor Phil (Bruce McKenzie) to write a story on the growing problem of rape on college campuses.
At first Erika demurs, feeling there’s already been coverage on the topic, but in a general sense that hasn’t helped much. However, Phil wants something more specific, and when he holds up the carrot of making the piece a cover story—placement much coveted by any writer—Erika decides to accept the assignment.
Erika begins her research by viewing footage of the Take Back the Night movement, showing protesters who want freedom for women to go about with ease in the surety that they will not be violated. (Actual footage, compiled by projection designer Katherine Freer, adds to the impact.)
Erika, intrigued by what she sees, is able to make contact with Ashley (Lexi Lapp), who claims she has been gang-raped by seven frat men in a hazing exercise.
But Ashley is in indescribable conflict whether to pursue reporting the incident or to let it go and try to escape from the intense emotional pain. Reactions so far to her story have been to accuse her of making it up, of exaggerating, of implying she must have brought it on herself.
At one point in the interview Ashley cries out, “They’ll kill me!” referring to the character assassination that will surely ensue should she accuse the specific perpetrators—she admits she knows who they are.
When Erika continues to urge her to do so, Ashley insists: “Don’t you understand? I have to be here for two more years. I’ll be known as the ‘gang-bang’ girl!” and thus unable to experience a moment’s peace. And she literally curls up in a fetal position on a table, in despair.
It’s a sad commentary on our culture, and in many cultures throughout the world, that it is the victims who experience shame, not the perpetrators.
Ashley’s experiences with college administrators have not been fruitful. They insist she make a public statement and go through what would be a public trial, thereby forcing her to re-experience the shame and disgust of the incident.
Erika, unable to persuade Ashley to be quoted, thereby negating the efficacy of the potential article, goes on to interview Christina (Déa Julien), the school’s “coordinator for sexual assault and response.”
Christina, a fairly recent college grad herself, points out that many students who have been violated are not necessarily encouraged to make complaints to college authorities or to file police reports. Past records have indicated that victims rarely find justice and so just want to put it all behind them and move on with their lives.
Christina comments, “A lot of them just want to feel okay.” Christina ultimately admits that she herself was raped during her undergraduate days.
A fascinating episode in the play displays Erika’s interview with Connor (Jack Fellows), a frat member as well as a member of an organization presumably for the purpose of educating college men to behave properly in social situations. It is subtly hinted, however, that Connor may himself have been a participant or at least complicit in Ashley’s brutal assault. His attitude oozes smugness, for he knows he will never be accused by Ashley and certainly not by other frat members. After all, they are “brothers”—kind of an upper-class Mafia.
Director Tony Speciale has paced the show tightly and swiftly, and performances are first-rate, with Jocelyn Kuritsky’s dogged intensity fueling the fire.
Bruce McKenzie’s editor Phil shows an interesting complexity demonstrating a surface democratic attitude toward his writer mixed with slight condescension.
Déa Julien’s Christina effectively travels from confident young executive to open, vulnerable young woman.
The attractive Lexi Lapp makes a nice New York City debut here, exhibiting sensitivity and an appealing softness, as Ashley.
Jack Fellows’s Connor is a bit overdone at times but manages to get across the superciliousness of an undeserving, privileged young man.
The set by Jo Winiarski is simple but effective, consisting mainly of a large conference room-type table.
“Stet,” a printer’s term for “let the copy remain as written,” is an admirable play on an important topic. It deserves a longer life span than the current limited production at Abingdon Theatre Company (in association with The Muse Project). I can visualize it produced in colleges across the country, as a starting point for discussion and hopefully for progress in this knotty and offensive problem.
Abingdon Theatre Company
June Havoc Theatre
312 W. 36th St.
Running Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes (no intermission)
Tickets: 866-811-4111 or AbingdonTheatre.org
Closes: July 10
Diana Barth writes for various publications including New Millennium. She may be contacted at email@example.com