By Jean Lowerison | Theater Review
Princeton freshmen Amber (Emily Shain) and Tom (DeLeon Dallas) try to navigate the sometimes-treacherous unknown waters of becoming a college student in Anna Ziegler’s riveting two-actor play “Actually,” playing through Nov. 4 at San Diego Repertory Theatre.
Amber is white, Jewish, talkative and unused to being the center of anyone’s attention. Tom is African-American, a budding musician and a bit of a loner, anxious to succeed.
What they both discover is that — at least in this first week — students drink. A lot. Wanting to fit in, they go along. And on one of those drunken nights, they end up in bed together.
What did or didn’t happen there is the crux of the play, as a Title IX violation is filed, followed by the obligatory and embarrassing “investigation” to determine consent, guilt and what really constitutes “preponderance of evidence” (the standard used in Title IX).
The nature (and definition) of truth are also under discussion here. What really happened? Was it deliberate assault, misunderstanding, or a natural outgrowth of Tom and Amber’s newly (if drunkenly) discovered attraction for each other? If their recollections don’t jibe, how do we determine which is right?
This is heavy and very timely stuff, deftly handled by Ziegler, who structures the piece as a series of conversations. The difference here is that the actors often directly talk to us, the audience, as if we were friends.
This almost seems like a hometown production, with the director and both actors graduates of UCSD’s graduate theater program.
The play is well served by Director Jesca Prudencio, who is now Head of Directing at SDSU. Prudencio — also a choreographer — has the actors move almost like dancers. It’s a brilliant stroke.
Shain and Dallas are perfectly cast as students who find themselves embroiled in a situation that pits them against each other in a contest in which everybody loses. Both come across as utterly honest, confused and, in the end, possibly damaged.
Lighting and sound direction (Chris Rynne and Melanie Chen Cole, respectively) not only add to the atmosphere, but seem almost like characters themselves.
Don’t miss this funny, sad and utterly engaging play.
—Jean Lowerison is a long-standing member of the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle and can be reached at email@example.com.