Review: 'Extremities' by Backyard Theater Ensemble

Nancy Sasso Janis

  • OnStage Connecticut Critic
  • @nancysjanis417

Thomaston, CT - The eleventh production by Backyard Theater Ensemble opened last evening at the tiny Black Box Theater in the Thomaston Opera House Arts Center. ‘Extremities’ by William Mastrosimone was a challenging choice made by the production team of this young theatre group that does not shy away from thought-provoking dramatic works.

‘Extremities’ is an intense play about an attempted rape, power and gender in society. Marjorie is the young women who is attacked in her home by a stalker and would-be rapist. She fights back and manages to tie him up and lock him in the fireplace. Her two roommates come home to the grim scene and offer different points of view about rape and justice. The three women turn on the attacker and each other at various points in the rest of the play and be forewarned that there is violence and some graphic/profane language throughout. 

Lucia Dressel directed the play with keen insight, partly as a result of consultation with Mr. Mastrosimone via email and a phone call during the rehearsal process that was initiated by him. The playwright offered invaluable insight and shared his reasons for writing the play, common pitfalls of producing the show and anecdotal experiences with other productions of the piece. It was both interesting and helpful to read the excerpts from their conversation printed in the program. 

In her director’s note, Ms. Dressel shares that she believes the piece is not about rape, but rather about how individuals react to sexual assault. She reminded the audience to keep in mind that the play is set in 1982, a time when during a rape trial a woman’s sexual history was admissible in court. While acknowledging that the play is difficult to watch, she asked the opening night audience to allow themselves to feel and experience theatre “in a new and brave manner. For a brief time, let it seep under your skin and into your intellect. Let it become part of your extremities.” 

The title of the play probably refers to the extremes that Marjorie goes to punish her attacker, as well as the body parts that she ties up in order to confine him. There was a 1986 movie that starred Farrah Fawcett and before that the play ran off Broadway with Susan Sarandon. Because I was unfamiliar with both, I was able to experience the ninety minute production (presented with no intermission) without knowing what would happen next. I found it spellbinding and easier to sit through than I had expected. Right up to the final minutes, I would have guessed a different ending and during the talk back, members of the opening night audience expressed astute opinions as they spoke with the cast members and their director. 

The cast did an amazing job of bringing to life the four characters in the play. Frank Beaudry played Raul, the attacker who has spent time in prison. The character is a master manipulator and truly terrifying to watch; Mr. Beaudry, in his BTE debut, gave a masterful performance. Amy Kopchik made her theater debut as the roommate Terry, who was a victim of rape, and Abby Lund returned to BTE to play the roommate named Patricia. Both actresses gave strong performances.

In the leading role of Marjorie, Tina Parziale gave everything she had to what she calls the most challenging role, by far, that she has ever taken on. I am always impressed by the work of this young actress, who by day is a teacher at Classical Magnet School in Hartford, and this performance was the best one I have seen. With just a glance, she was able to convey what her character was thinking and she mastered the extremes of behavior that Marjorie exhibits in the ninety minutes following the attack. 

Another very effective BTE set was designed by committee and worked well in this tiny space. BTE Vice President Chet Ostroski served as both set build coordinator and fight coordinator. His very recent fiancee, BTE President Kailee Donovan, was the show’s producer. Interesting lighting and some well-placed blackouts were designed by Chris Petrucci, with consultation by Dylan Reilly. Mr. Beaudry was in charge of sound design. 

‘Extremities’ runs May 28, June 3-4 at 8:00pm, May 29 at 4:00pm and June 5 at 5:00pm.Next up for BTE is a special collaboration in honor of their five year anniversary with Phoenix Stage Company at Clockwork. ‘Loose Ends’ by Michael Weller will run November 4 through 12, 2016 at the Clockwork Repertory Theater in Oakville.