Susan Granger’s review of “The Rape of the Sabine Women by Grace B. Matthias” (The Duke on 42nd Street/Off-Broadway)
According to Roman mythology, the Rape of the Sabine Women refers to a time when the men of ancient Rome committed a mass abduction of young women from surrounding areas during the festival of Neptune Equester.
During the Renaissance and afterwards, it became a popular subject for painters, particularly Jacques-Louis David’s “The Intervention of the Sabine Women.”
Now, playwright Michael Yates Crowley transforms it into a darkly satirical indictment of American rape culture, revolving around a 15 year-old Springfield high school student, Grace B. Matthias (Susannah Perkins), dressed in a baggy sweater, who recounts her sexual assault to a Lawyer (Jeff Biehl).
Grace’s rapist Jeff (Doug Harris) is a not the star football player on the team known as the Romans. Instead, he’s the shy sidekick of the quarterback Bobby (Alex Breaux), and Grace’s tortured ambivalence is obvious, since she says she’d like to forgive him, just like the Sabine woman ‘forgave’ their captors by marrying them.
But those around her have differing viewpoints. Her callous cheerleader pal Monica (Jeena Yi) urges her to keep quiet, noting “Boys don’t like smart.” A misogynistic newsman (Chas Carey) focuses on the potential damage to the Romans’ season. The guidance counselor (Eva Kaminsky) is emotionally conflicted. And the townsfolk fall back on the classic re-victimizing “Did she asked for it?” scenario.
Sensitively directed by Tyne Rafaeli, Arnulfo Maldonado’s set reveals a high-school gymnasium with lighting by Barbara Samuels, and Asta Bennie Hostetter’s costumes.
The exciting, innovative concept – with its inherent complications – was inspired by the 2012 Steubenville, Ohio, case which involved the rape of an intoxicated teenage girl by two football players.
And it’s particularly timely since President Donald Trump is trying to dismantle the Obama administrations 2011 guidelines that require schools to investigate all complaints of sexual assault.
FYI: In 1954, the short story “The Sobbin Women” by Stephen Vincent Benet, was adapted into a M.G.M. musical “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” which subsequently became a stage musical.
This Playwrights Realm production, which is presented without an intermission, is at The Duke on 42nd Street thru Sept. 23. For tickets, call 212-223-3010 or go to www.dukeon42.org.