“Actually” finds power in its realism

“Actually” finds power in its realism

Photo by Daniel Radar

Colleges try to inform students how to deal with sexual situations they will encounter while enrolled. No means no. Receive consent throughout. If someone is unable to give consent due to drug or alcohol consumption, that’s an automatic no. Respect is key. Yet these situations will always arise, no matter what the students learn – and there’s always a gray area in the he-said-she-said that ensues. Actually, in a timely, true-to-life production masterfully directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz, brings us into this gray area – where there are no winners and young lives have the potential of being ruined before they’ve even begun.

Amber (Alexandra Socha) and Tom (Joshua Boone) are freshmen at Princeton who meet in class; both of them are a little lost and have been immersing themselves in parties and random hookups. They feel what might be the beginning of a connection, but events that occur after a party where they both drink to excess become the focus of an investigation.

The show is staged simply, the two actors in a wood-paneled room on chairs facing the audience. The scenes switch seamlessly from the hearing to flashbacks of the two interacting – on campus, at the party, after the party – to monologues by the two about what’s happening or things that have happened in the past that color the present. This works beautifully; the only changes needed are lighting (the flat, dead fluorescents for the hearing scenes are the most stunning – has anything good ever happened under lights with no soul like these?) and a slight movement for the actors – a change in location, a shift in body language to let us know where they are. Blain-Cruz, Socha and Boone work flawlessly together to set the scenes, with excellent results.

Both Socha and Boone were stellar in their roles. Socha, almost a dead ringer for Millie Bobby Brown, had her neurotic but endearing character down pat; she could be any freshman girl on any campus anywhere, trying to fit in, learning the ropes of her new life and not quite sure if she’s going to succeed. Her longing for connection with someone, anyone, was heartbreaking. Boone was the teenager trying to act tough but failing; his veneer would crack and you could see the lost little boy beneath. The electricity between the two crackled, which made the hearing scenes even more emotional.

We often think we know who’s to blame in these situations. It’s 2017 and we still hear the questions of who was wearing what, or how much they had to drink. We tend to make these children and young adults into symbols and forget they are people. Mistakes are made. Words are said and can’t be taken back, or not said when they should have been. Misunderstandings happen. Not everything is black or white, and there are very seldom clear-cut heroes or villains in every story – and empathy lies in understanding that. This show’s power is in its realism, and it will affect everyone lucky enough to see it.

“Actually,” Williamstown Theatre Festival, 1000 Main St., Williamstown, MA, through August 20, $58, Run time: 90 minutes,

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