Really Really, Lucille Lortel Theatre, New York

By the first-act curtain of Really Really, the new drama off-Broadway at the Lortel, the writer Paul Downs Colaizzo has deftly established a moral dilemma: Leigh, a young woman at an unnamed American university, claims that at a debauched undergraduate party she was sexually assaulted by Davis, who remembers their encounter as drunken but consensual.

Will the second act continue to develop the story on the highly charged, often entertaining path established in the initial hour? Or will the dramatist fall into the second-act trouble especially endemic to young writers? The answer is more the latter than the former, but not because the story refuses to settle into an easy outcome.

Though the evening is in large measure a basic case of he said/she said, Really Really has a bracing lack of clarity. Almost every bit of evidence can be interpreted in at least two ways, which at first tantalises, then becomes as predictable as a standard TV procedural.

An ever-shifting set of alliances reflects the credo of “healthy selfishness” espoused by one of the student’s friends. If such an attitude cannot help but suggest Neil LaBute – whose work has been regularly produced at the Lortel, and by the same producing organisation, MCC Theater – it also carries the stamp of a valuable fresh voice. Colaizzo has that rare gift: he can set down on the page how people actually talk.

But he also has a tendency to push too many scenes into a confrontation. This inclination is made worse by a few members of the seven-strong ensemble who seem to think that the only way to express displeasure is to raise one’s voice. Such technique turns Act One sharpness into Act Two shrillness.

The most piercing moments of Really Really, beautifully staged by David Cromer, contain almost no talking: when Leigh returns home dazed from the party, and when Davis, hoping to avoid school suspension and a criminal prosecution, shows up at Leigh’s home and treads towards her. The liveliest exchanges of dialogue occur between Davis, portrayed by Matt Lauria, and his rugby-playing buddy, Cooper, given a deceptively dumb demeanour by David Hull. As Leigh, Zosia Mamet – currently in HBO’s voice-of-a-generation comedy Girls – has a very affecting moment when she tearfully reveals the rape to her boyfriend.

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