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Theater Review: “Really Really” at Signature Theatre

A brilliant new play takes a disturbing look at Generation Me and its unstoppable quest for success at all costs.

Davis (Jake Odmark) and Cooper (Evan Casey) in Signature Theatre’s production of “Really Really.” Photograph by Scott Suchman.

Paul Downs Colaizzo seems to have a pretty bleak view of today’s youth, if his new play, Really Really, is anything to go by. Which is a shame, because the 26-year-old writer’s debut play is nothing short of inspirational. Currently playing at Signature Theatre in a production directed by 28-year-old Matthew Gardiner, Really Really is theater for the Gossip Girl generation—edgy, funny, caustic, shocking—but thoughtful and weighty enough to hold its own even among audience members who think tweeting’s for birds and Glee‘s an after-school activity.

Much like John Patrick Shanley’s Pulitzer Prize–winning play, Doubt, at the core of Really Really is a he said/she said conflict that threatens to disturb the lives of everyone involved, however tangentially. As the play opens, two drunk college students, Grace (Lauren Culpepper) and Leigh (Bethany Anne Lind), peel themselves off the sidewalk and stumble into their shared house, laughing hysterically and incoherently about nothing in particular. Grace’s arm is covered in blood, which doesn’t really seem to trouble her; Leigh falls onto the couch, where she proceeds to check her voicemail four times in a row. It isn’t till the next morning that Grace, now cheerfully bandaged and on her way to a youth leaders conference, questions a now-belligerent Leigh about last night’s drunken hookup. “We all make mistakes!” Grace tells her. “Last night, you just made the hottest mistake on campus.”

Complicating matters, however, is Leigh’s wealthy but controlling boyfriend, Jimmy (Danny Gavigan), who’s on the same rugby team as the student she slept with, Davis (Jake Odmark), and who believes Leigh is pregnant with his baby. When Davis’s Van Wilder–esque roommate, perpetual student Cooper (Evan Casey), accidentally lets slip to Jimmy what happened, Leigh tells him it was rape, prompting panic on the part of Davis, who can’t remember what actually happened, and disgust from Grace, who doesn’t believe her friend. The action flits back and forth between the girls’ apartment and the boys’, which occupy half the stage each in a nice visual rendering of gender patterns: One half is all crumpled beer cans, video games, and squalor, while the other is a sweetly decorated home with a pastel color scheme and a fully stocked pantry.

Lest anyone doubt the moral vacuity of all the characters onstage, the action is interspersed with snippets of a speech Grace gives at her conference, in which she discusses “Generation Me” and its ultimate commitment to selfish survival at whatever costs. “What can I do to make this work?” Grace tells her audience is the motto of her ruthless counterparts. “What can I do to get what I want?” Colaizzo’s characters, meanwhile, are so heartlessly self-seeking they could have their own MTV reality show. There’s Leigh, who appears to have made up her pregnancy to get Jimmy to stay with her, yet appears so genuinely traumatized by her night with Davis that it’s tricky not to believe her version of events. There’s Leigh’s sister, Haley (Kim Rosen), who’s so brash and manipulative she’s almost cartoonish. There’s Davis’s friend Johnson (Paul James), who begs Davis not to bring him down with him. And there’s Davis himself, referred to as “Good Davis” by his friends, but who, it gradually transpires, isn’t as gentle and innocent as he seems.

In Really Really, Colaizzo manages to create truly unpleasant characters who nevertheless seem disturbingly familiar, and whose vicious wit is as entertaining as it is offensive. Though Gardiner’s youth hasn’t always seemed like an asset at Signature, he seems like the perfect director for this show, drawing out its ugly jokes and compelling portraits with a fluid ease that makes them feel like just another part of college life. He’s also assembled a brilliant young cast, particularly Lind and Odmark, whom it’s hard not to be drawn to. It’s presumably a coincidence, if a convenient one, that the play makes its debut as George Huguely is being tried for the murder of Yeardley Love and Chris Brown is being enveloped back into the forgiving arms of the music industry: The play raises multiple questions about a generation so quick to demand things (money, sex, power) that it doesn’t stop to consider what they cost. “I’m just doing what I have to do” is a refrain uttered by more than one character, and it’s a nice summation of this brilliant but discomfiting new show.

Really Really is at Signature Theatre through March 25. Tickets ($55 to $79) are available through Signature’s website.