Minnesota premiere of 'Actually,' a play about rape on campus, is compelling

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FEBRUARY 17, 2019 — 5:29PM

Rohan Preston@ROHANPRESTON

MINNESOTA JEWISH THEATER COMPANY Miriam Schwartz and JuCoby Johnson in “Actually.”

MINNESOTA JEWISH THEATER COMPANY Miriam Schwartz and JuCoby Johnson in “Actually.”

Every 98 seconds, someone is sexually assaulted in this country, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. That's 321,500 annual victims of sexual assault, with more than half of those in the 18-34 age range. Those staggering numbers are getting increased attention from the press and law enforcement in the wake of the #MeToo movement.

The epidemic of sexual violence also is getting more attention from artists, including playwright Anna Ziegler. Her 2017 drama, "Actually," made its regional premiere Saturday at the Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company. The play fleshes out the grim statistics with complicated humans. But the case presented by Ziegler is far from black-and-white, although it centers on a white Jewish woman and a black man.

Set at Princeton in 2016, "Actually" revolves around students Amber (Miriam Schwartz), a squash player who speaks multiple languages, and Tom (JuCoby Johnson), a classical pianist who does not seem to know the words please and thank you.

Attracted to each other and juiced by alcohol, they hook up one night. Neither has clear memories of what transpired between them, and both remember it differently.

Tom thinks that things went great and that she's really into him. Amber feels that the night was fraught. "He practically raped me," she tells a friend. Her friend, deeply concerned, files a report.

"Actually" is a 90-minute two-hander that gives us the two parties' back stories, including their sexual histories. The two characters give testimony to a university panel.

The show marks the directorial debut of Harry Waters Jr., who played Belize in the premiere of "Angels in America" and who teaches at Macalester College. He and his team evoke the Princeton campus with brutalist concrete blocks with projected ivy — Michael Hoover designed scenography and Michael Wangen the lights. C. Andrew Mayer created sound design to suggest a college party atmosphere.

Amber and Tom, as played by Schwartz and Johnson, are engaging. The two actors deliver characters who are sympathetic, smart and compelling. They also are strong scene partners, which we only see in brief moments because most of the play is delivered as monologues.

That feels like a cop-out by the playwright, one of several unsatisfying choices.

Amber has blind spots that seem out of character for someone so smart. She tells Tom that he only got into Princeton because of a spot reserved for someone like him. She got in, she says, because of the spot reserved for mediocre squash players. "Has it been very hard for you being black?" she asks.

Assertive but bordering on predatory, Tom, too, has a lot to learn. As he and Amber flirt in the first few minutes of the play, he tells her: "I'm gonna kiss you now." She says, "Oh, OK." Then they make out.

"Actually" is about the many ways in which two young people are awakening.


“Actually”

What: By Anna Ziegler

When: 1 p.m. Tues. & Sun., 7:30 p.m. Wed.-Thu., 8 p.m. Sat., through March 10

Where: Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company, Highland Park Community Center, 1978 Ford Pkwy., St. Paul

Tickets: $23-$38, 651-647-4315, info@mnjewishtheatre.org


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Rohan Preston covers theater for the Star Tribune.

rpreston@startribune.com 612-673-4390 @rohanpreston

Original Source: http://www.startribune.com/minnesota-premiere-of-actually-a-play-about-rape-on-campus-is-compelling/505970032/

Pregnancy rocks a middle-aged woman's world in Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company show

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STAGE & ARTS

Kim Kivens in the Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company’s “What I Thought I Knew.” photo by sarah whiting.

Kim Kivens in the Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company’s “What I Thought I Knew.” photo by sarah whiting.

AUGUST 20, 2018 — 9:49PM - by Rohan Preston

Actor Kim Kivens does not hold up a picture of an aborted late-term fetus in “What I Thought I Knew,” a solo show that opened Saturday at Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company. Playing a medical clinic employee, she describes what happens to the fetus in low-key, clinical terms.

It’s chilling. At Saturday’s opening, some audience members winced and recoiled.

But even as those details pass, there’s hardly any escape from the harrowing larger story that is coolly unspooled over the 100 minutes of Alice Eve Cohen’s autobiographical one-act play. Performed with immediacy, power and occasional humor by Kivens, and staged with effective simplicity by Jennie Ward, “What I Thought I Knew” takes us on a gripping ride even as it raises moral and practical questions.

Cohen, a New York-based writer and theater teacher who adapted this show from a best-selling memoir, had been told all her life that she was infertile. So she adopted a child, even as she keeps up a regimen that includes hormone treatments.

Now, at 44, she has an unexplained growth in her abdomen. Her doctors think it may be a tumor, something related to menopause. After a battery of tests, she finds out she is six months’ pregnant.

All sorts of questions arise.Cohen has had no prenatal care. Ultrasounds reveal a fetus with a number of complications. Cohen considers her options, from abortion to adoption to keeping the child. She often seems alone in her deliberations, though she has a partner — amusician who’s 10 years younger and always on the road — as well as her daughter, who is now 8.

There’s not much of a set on the stage of the Highland Park Community Center, where MJTC’s shows are performed. There’s a chalkboard on which the narrator writes chapter headings, and a floor lamp that represents Cohen’s 8-year-old.

Kivens starts the show by wheeling in an expandable table that contains a picnic basket, which has some sustenance for her. Then she takes us into the story, playing all the characters with their accents, gestures and idiosyncrasies.

A one-person play is one of the most daunting challenges an actor can take on. There is no scene partner to give the performer a cue or to serve as a crutch. The actor has to generate all the emotions herself. And she has to master reams of text, or at least flub her lines with honesty.

But the risks are worth it when you have a skilled performer like Kivens, who has performed some fetching characters at Children’s Theatre. She holds us spellbound, even if we grimace here and there. Understated and with assurance, she takes us inside the emotions that rock a confident woman whose assumptions about herself and her world are totally upended.

“What I Thought I Knew” is a very specific story. But there’s insight for any of us who might be blindsided by unexpected news.

What I Thought I Knew
Who: By Alice Eve Cohen. Directed by Jennie Ward for Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company.
Where: Highland Park Community Center, 1978 Ford Parkway, St. Paul.
When: 1 p.m. Tue. & Sun., 7:30 p.m. Wed.-Thu., 8 p.m. Sat. Ends Aug. 30
Tickets: $23-$38. 651-647-4315 or mnjewishtheatre.org.