Transient Theatre

Israel Horovitz’s The Widow’s Blind Date is one of the most intelligent plays ever written on the subject of rape, both in its proposal that rape victims are not necessarily doomed to spend the rest of their lives as psychological cripples and in its assertion that living well is the best revenge. The popular picture of rape, presented by artists bent on exploiting our culture’s ambivalent attitudes toward this volatile mix of sex and violence, generally consists of an adequately pure, thoroughly defenseless, and attractive woman who is brutally assaulted by a big, strong, bad male–after which her only recourse is to go to pieces or to talk until she gains the sympathies of a big, strong, good male, preferably a judge or a senator. It’s acknowledged that this is a grossly oversimplified treatment, but the human response to rape is often so intense and visceral as to render analysis almost impossible. Horovitz’s attempt to discuss rape rationally and dispassionately is what distinguishes his play from others of the genre.

Horovitz opens his narrative 20 years after the Wakefield High School graduation party on the beach, when Margy–cheerleader, salutatorian, and sister to the class president–was sexually assaulted by her boyfriend, his best buddy, her blind brother, her future husband, and three other classmates. Four of the seven assailants are now dead, of natural causes, leaving only Margy’s former boyfriend, Archie, who now manages his father’s wastepaper recycling plant; George, the best buddy, long unemployed except for occasional odd jobs helping Archie; and Peter, Margy’s brother, whose imminent death has brought her home to Wakefield. On this afternoon–with the ominous baling machine and the discarded newspapers reminding us that what goes around comes around–Margy comes to confront the last of her enemies.

In classical mythology, Nemesis was an adjunct to the Fates and Furies, an avenging angel who saw to it that justice was served. Margy, too, has thwarted those who would have punished and humiliated her, graduating from college and forging a successful career in faraway cosmopolitan surroundings while Arch and George stagnate in rust-belt squalor. Then, with the indomitable strength of the survivor who knows that the worst is over and therefore fears nothing, she skillfully and deliberately severs the allegiances that bound the two men together in their lynch-mob frenzy and forces each to acknowledge the self-loathing that moved him to bully her, their friend. One of the men confesses his crime and is forgiven. The other does not, and receives the wrath reserved for the unrepentant.

Unfortunately, Transient Theatre’s production does not resolve the injustice so much as reenact it, rejecting the inevitability of tragedy for the suspense of melodrama. By instructing his actors to play the emotion rather than the intellect, director Bill Mann dispenses with Horovitz’s orderly argument and substitutes the erratic emotionalism of an encounter group. The resulting hodgepodge of transactional-analysis games culminates in the familiar sight of the newly purified hero charging in to rescue the terrified damsel from the evil villain.

Though Lisa Slabach is a competent, even talented actress, she’s badly miscast as Margy–her chirpy voice, junior miss clothes, unfettered hair (which tumbles gracefully over her eyes when the rough stuff starts), and trembling lower lip make her the picture of vulnerable innocence. Her initial control over her adversaries is more that of a poised and confident flirt than of a virago on a mission 20 years in the planning. And when she finally gives vent to the anguish that has haunted her for so long, there is pain aplenty but no power to give dignity to that pain. Her final exit is a frightened retreat at the order of her protector, evoking pity but no sense of triumph.

In the roles of Archie and George, Frank Adducci and Tom Daniel (doing his dumb, cute, and childlike turn once again) play their characters with the energy and exuberance of hormone-stuffed adolescents. When the two homeboys recall the halcyon days of their youth, we do not see two broken, wasted losers exchanging memories carefully preserved over decades but optimistic lads with their futures ahead of them playing at nostalgia.

Transient Theatre’s decision to address a frustrating social problem is certainly commendable, as is their decidedly competent production (though too many of the newspapers that litter the floor of the Massachusetts recycling plant are recognizably Chicago publications). But with so many heavy-breathing treatments of rape in film and television there was no need to convert Horovitz’s exceptional script into yet another.