One of the theaters where I -- and incidentally, playwright Frank Winters -- went to college was always a bit of a fixer upper. Shoddy stagecraft from the many shows in rep littered the floor. The fire curtain had huge tears through it. Finally, my senior year it shuttered aspart of a larger asbestos abatement project. The place always gave me the creeps. I start with this personal aside because such a theater at such a school is the backdrop for Winters’ latest play, the unsettlingly topical Student Body now running at the Flea.
On a cold winter night, April (Comfort Katchy) has gathered some students to discuss something sensitive brought to the table by Sarah (Alexandra Curran). Some were invited, some not, but in the end, the news of the apparent sexual assault of student at Sarah’s home the weekend before touches all of them. How stepping forward with the videotaped evidence will affect their lives post-grad and beyond provides us with our shifting tension. Liz (Alesandra Nahodil) says to turn it in to the cops before doing a 180 on her position, concerned about being hounded by the press and the video dogging her, and sister Maggie, for the rest of their lives. Lacrosse bro ringleader Rob (Tommy Bernardi) and his buddy Pete (Adam Alexander Hamilton) appeal to reasonable doubt. A townie, Daisy (Mariette Strauss), makes an interesting kind of Juror #8 out of Twelve Angry Men, unwavering in her conviction that it’s guilty until proven innocent even as the many mitigating and devastating details emerge and sway the votes of others. The taut, real-time nature of the piece resists synopsis beyond this, but the large ensemble rarely feels bloated in ranks and even in their worst moments, none of the characters completely vilified. Each speaks their piece, from the far-gone Natalie (a poignant turn by Audrey Wang), to the flighty Maggie (Sidney Blaxill), to the at-first taciturn, later tempestuous, Malcolm (Alex J. Gould), who trumpets a few times that he wasn't at the party, but learns his girlfriend, Lucy (Daniela Rivera), was, and in a big way .
It’s hard to imagine a play better suited to the demography of the Bats, the Flea’s resident actors, or the space in which they play and lounge and bang to Michelle Tattenbaum’s lived-in staging. The gnarly trappings of Jerad Schomer’s set — the untapped nails, the stray power tools, the unfinished flats, the loose lumber that lurches out like booby traps — manifest an ugliness in campus culture. The room where victims are blamed and trigger warnings justified is lit with stark simplicity by Elizabeth M. Stewart’s strip lights. Pared down to perfection, this pressure cooker is a prudent pick for colleges looking for something edgy on a budget, and it’s not a bad start to the Flea’s fall season either.