Rape is a complicated issue made more complex by the digital world.
Good Kids, a new production by the university’s School of Theatre, Dance and Performance Studies, addresses that fact, showing how reactions to rape and sexual assault have been affected, in ways both good and bad, by the current social media environment.
Though it brings these pressing issues to the fore, the play, like so many courts, ultimately fails to make a clear indictment against its central cause. In presenting rape and sexual assault as endlessly complex and difficult to understand, Good Kids overcomplicates its own subject with a lack of straightforward scenes and too many broad statements without any cohesive point.
The play is based loosely on the Steubenville High School rape case in 2012, where a group of high school students, including football players, sexually assaulted an incapacitated girl and documented the acts on social media.
Good Kids follows the story of Chloe, played alternately by Sarah Kinney and Antonella Pérez Fererro, a girl from “the other side of the river” who visits a small town—the kind you’d “drive by on the highway,” a place singularly obsessed with football—and attends a party with her cousin and a friend.
While there, she meets a few of the resident football players and apparently leaves with them.
She wakes up the next morning in her underwear in an unfamiliar basement, with no memory of the events after she left the party.
This is the central plot of Good Kids, but the play takes some time getting there. Rather than progressing chronologically, the action follows a loose order with scenes being recast from different perspectives and continual insistence on rewinding to earlier scenes that had been skipped over.
This shuffling of the narrative is an interesting conceit, and it relates to one of the central themes of Good Kids – how truth is muddled by memory and perspective.
However, at a certain point it gets to be a little annoying. One wonders if Good Kids might benefit from a more conventional plot.
Or, if not a conventional plot, then at least Good Kids could use some better scenes. As it is, Good Kids spends too much time on ensemble dialogues, where all the cast is on stage discussing the incidents and the larger issues they present.
Again, these choices are creative and interesting. But there are so many of these vaguely realistic discussions that one longs for more emotionally tangible scenes.
An example would be the scene where Chloe lies, unmoved, on a bench as her assailants crowd around and jeer at an empty bench on the other side of the stage.
Chloe slowly walks over to the other side as she realizes what has happened to her—she is only aware she was assaulted when she sees the video of it online. As she approaches, the football players turn around, refusing to face her or acknowledge their actions.
This scene is staged in an interesting way and comes off as much more genuine than the extended dialogues, where lines too often seem as though they were lifted from a PSA.
From the beginning, the play presents itself as a matter of “he said, she said,” but that doesn’t seem to be the real issue here.
The events that unfold make it quite clear Chloe was indeed assaulted.
And that might be the biggest problem of the play. It’s trying to focus on several things it is unable to handle at certain points of the performance.
The play overemphasizes its statements on social media, and on true and misremembered events, and, in doing so, it loses focus on some of the more pressing concerns with rape culture.
Good Kids was written by Naomi Iizuka as the first play in the Big Ten New Play Initiative, meaning it will be staged at theaters in schools across the conference. It’s good the play and these theaters are willing to take on this prevalent topic, but one wishes it could have taken on rape culture more aggressively and more cohesively.
All the actors all performed well, and there was an interesting use of music and media – such as projections and television screens – throughout the performance.
There is some suggestion the assault was motivated or at least unmitigated by its rural setting among individuals who hold football players above all else and let “boys be boys.”
This could certainly be a problem, but, for a play staged at so many colleges, it’s too bad Good Kids focused so much on a specific incident and so little on widespread rape on university campuses, where people are supposed to be highly educated and progressive.
Toward the end, the cast of Good Kids asks the titular question: Are these good kids? Should they always be defined by mistakes they made?
“This is part of the story I tell,” each character intones concerning the assault. The unfortunate truth, however, is these assaults are so rarely part of the told story.
Rape is severely underreported and too often unspoken.
And some of these kids are bad kids, but, if they get away with their acts of violence, it’s unlikely it will ever be a story they tell.
Still, Good Kids deserves kudos for discussing rape culture.
The performance presents yet another imperative dialogue, allowing for diverse open forum and a chance to confront the ignorance surrounding the issue, making it possible for those affected to speak up.
Joe Zimmermann is a junior English and journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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