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Play 'Extremities' Encourages Students To Look Closely at the Realities of Rape

In the News

By Liam T.A. Ford

Most of the people who went to see Extremities by William Mastrosimone knew it was about an attempted rape. But they did not know they would come out of the play, scheduled as part of this week's Take Back the Night activities, feeling some sympathy for the potential rapist, and a great deal of confusion about their reaction to the work.

Rape involves complex issues--women's rights, societal acceptance of violence, the efficacy of the judicial system. Because Mastrisimone's widely lauded script admittedly raises these issues in a disturbing manner, director Molly E. Bishop '91 arranged an open discussion led by a rape counselor from the University Health Services (UHS).

"In the discussion we were hoping to offer information to back up the issues raised in the play," Bishop said.

"If you've been through it yourself you need to know there's someone to talk to here," she said. She also said she hoped the discussion would promote a greater awareness of the problems of rape and assault at Harvard.

The discussion opened with Nadja B. Gould, a clinical social worker and research associate at UHS, talking about themes in the play. She then tried to solicit response from the audience members.

Some of the audience members said they felt ambivalent about the questions of blame and retribution raised in the work.

Extremities opens with the female protagonist, Marjorie, waking in the morning, putting water on for coffee, and lighting a cigarette. A man walks in univited and, after a feeble attempt at sweet-talking her into sex, assaults her. He attempts then to rape her, but Marjorie overpowers him.

After tying him up, Marjorie, cynical about the justice system, begins to mete out what she sees as justice: torture. Marjorie's roomates come home to find her attacker in the fireplace, bound and blindfolded. Debates ensue between them about the fair punishment of the potential rapist and Marjorie's role in the assault. At one point one of her roommates even insinuates Marjorie's clothing--or lack thereof--is calculated to provoke.

The play's resolution is ambiguous. Raul, the would-be rapist, blind and defeated, confesses his intentions to rape Margery, and her roommates. He admits to having raped and killed women in the past.

"I really can't say this play will help anyone except to understand how desperate a situation like that is," said Jacobina H. Martin '92, the actress who played Marjorie.

"I think any play that tried to answer the questions would be trite," Martin said.

Of all the unresolved issues brought up in the work, the one most enmeshed in confusion and conflict was Marjorie's exactment of retribution.

Many rapists go free, Gould said, because courts often find "provocative" dress or actions mean that a woman is asking for sex. Rape, therefore, is viewed as a justified male reaction to sexual enticement.

"What could they have done? She calls the cops, but will that do any good?" asked one sophomore woman in the audience after the play.

"It's definitely a play of frustration," another undergraduate said.

In part, the frustration springs from society's attitudes towards prosecuting rape cases. Historically, a huge majority of alleged rapists brought up on charges are released. Often, the courts, like the general public, maintain the assaulted women are to blame.

Nestor G. Carbonell '91, who played Raul, said that several women approached him after productions."[They said, `We] felt so bad for you up there, you were getting smacked and hurt and I couldn't help but feel sorry for you,'" he said.

Producer Beth A. Norman '92, said she thought the victims themselves often feel responsible. She said she viewed Marjorie as an anomoly.

"Marjorie never feels this during the play. There are very few moments that she does doubt her own innocence," Norman said.

The character's unusual lack of selfdoubt might be attributed to the play's having been written by a man, Norman also said. Although she called all three of the women's roles "very strong," she said she thought the role of the rapist is "unbelievably well written."

Bishop said that she decided to stage this play in part because when she was searching for a work concerning women's issues. She also said she liked the fact that three of the four roles were female ones.

"There were about 30 shows [last term] and only four had women directors. Upwards of 60 per cent of the HRDC members are women," Bishop said.

Both Bishop and Norman said they thought Extremities would be a particularly timely production because there were a number of instances of sexual harassment last semester at Harvard. The two also said the play's falling in the same week as Take Back the Night was a fortunate coincidence.

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