The idea of rape as a life-changing event is certainly not new ground; it’s been the stuff of movies, plays and public service television for years. Yet Trey Tatum’s Slut Shaming, as directed by Bridget Leak, tells us in no uncertain terms that it is other people — not the rapist — who most influence the aftermath.
Performed by three talented actresses from Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park’s intern company (Chelsea D. Harrison, Shayna Schmidt and Britian Seibert) playing multiple and sometimes identical roles, we’re told the story of Lauren, a young woman who, it’s suggested, has been sexually assaulted at a high school party. We aren’t given a lot of details — there’s more unspoken about the incident than the play reveals — but as we learn, the truth isn’t everyone’s priority.
Instead, it seems that Lauren’s life has become polarized, with people deciding she now can only be one of two things: a victim or a slut. Parents and friends accuse her; police and the system dehumanize her. Lauren prays for normalcy, which is now denied her. The actors tell us with great irony that Lauren is a time traveler: She can skip between the past and the future to relive the easiest parts of her life, but avoids by necessity the one most painful event. In fact, she never fully understands it.
Leak does a marvelous job of visualizing the multiple moments in time. The set seems simple enough: two free-standing high school lockers. But they ingeniously store important props and function as a surface for the actors to make sounds, as a source from which pivotal words could appear and as the centerpiece for the show’s most powerful image, Lauren underwater. Trust me, it works.
Leak’s staging of three actors on what otherwise is a bare stage is specific and sometimes surprising in the strength of her images. And the actors themselves move seamlessly between characters, each playing Lauren as well as pivotal people in her life. It is dizzying at times, truly fine ensemble work.
Some moments stood out for me: Lauren’s younger brother not understanding why privacy matters when anything can be put on the Internet; Lauren’s sad belief that saying the words “I want to hurt myself” might make people finally believe that she is a victim; and Lauren’s parents, helpless in a world where anyone can say anything that they want, so long as they have Internet access or a blog. Ultimately, Slut Shaming reminds us of the power of forcing labels on people to whom absolute labels only rarely apply and of how the truth of a person — of their history and their character — can almost never be found in absolutes.
SLUT SHAMING by Those People Who Do That Theater (Cincinnati) will take place 7 p.m. May 29, 8:45 p.m. May 31, and 2 p.m. June 1 at Know Theatre (1120 Jackson St., Over-the-Rhine).