It is not every day that many of us find ourselves staring down the nozzle of a gun from either side of the trigger, but if you go see Rage at Ambassador Theater–and you should go see it–then that is exactly what you will experience. Guns, violence and the puzzle of peace face to face, close up and personal. Written by critically acclaimed Canadian playwright Michele Riml, this two-person, award-winning play is directed by Joe Banno and produced by Hanna Bondarewska for the Ambassador Theater’s 5th season and the play’s US premiere.
Laura Whalen, played by Ariana Almajan, is a perky, pretty-in-pink high school counselor who enshrines Gandhi in her office and follows a pacifist lifestyle. At the play’s opening, her workday has drawn near its close, and though mentally checked out and ready to go enjoy the play Les Miserable with her boyfriend, she has one last appointment to squeeze in: the troubled Raymond. When Raymond comes in, we quickly learn two things; that he prefers to be called “Rage,” and that he gave a violent presentation in class and may be expelled. Before the session is over, Rage takes Laura hostage at gunpoint and tells her only one of them will be leaving the room. Who gets to leave is her choice. Will she choose to die at his hand for her pacifist lifestyle, or will she kill him and save herself, and presumably, others?
‘Rage’ is wonderfully executed, terrifyingly brilliant, and seriously scary.
Almajan gives such an excellent performance as Laura that at the beginning you might think, wow, she is not that good of an actress. You rapidly realize, however, that she is acting as someone who is poorly pretending to be someone and something she is not. With the shedding of layers, Ariana creates a character in Laura that is so real and vivid that the experience of it will likely leave you raw and shaken along with her.
Vilchez, playing Rage, will leave you rapt and held at terrified attention with his explosive performance. “I go off,” Rage comments, and throughout the play you never know when he will “go off” again, how many more times he might blow up and what he might do to Laura as she struggles desperately to find a way for them both to live.
Almajan and Vilchez allow the audience to step into their shoes and experience with them the situation unfolding in the tiny basement office. “If you can get in someone’s head, you have a better chance of understanding them,” Rage says towards the play’s opening, defending his presentation. This is exactly the idea of this production, and the artistic director, Hanna, hopes that in watching the play, a space for dialogue can open up and audiences will start engaging in the questions that shape the play. Rage allows the audience to step for a very long, unforgettable moment into the shoes of the gun wielders so often taking over the headlines and to experience what having to make life and death choices is like, and to question our own beliefs. To paraphrase one line of the play, “It’s easy to have ideas when you’re not confronted with anything,” and Rage definitely confronts the ideas society has built up around violence and peace.
Everything within this production pulls audience members into the experience of Rage; the spot-on lighting and sound effects; the intimate set that lets audiences practically sit in the closet-office with the action; the fast-fired dialogue and completely natural reactions of the characters–even the occasional joke or witticism that has the audience laughing in the darkness. Even the subtle details echo and engrave the heart of the play, like the way that Laura goes from happy-pink cheerfulness with tied back, tight hair at the beginning to an unbuttoned, colourless, messy haired, utterly undone being as Rage wreaks havoc on her and her beliefs. “You can’t be who you are with a gun in your face,” Laura screams back at Rage as he yells at her again about “being peace.” “Why not?” He asks her back. “There was always a gun somewhere.”
This gun itself; you, too, will come face to face with it due to the intimate set. From every angle of the stage, looking up and down its nose, watching it wave, waiting for it to go off along with Rage. There is nothing sheltering about this production, it is a powerful piece with no holds barred. This is Halloween, and everything right now is all about cool costumes and the scare factor. But if you really like scary and you want to be scared, then come see this production. Rage is wonderfully executed, terrifyingly brilliant, and seriously scary. Don’t expect to walk away unscathed: this is theatre at its most palpable.
Running Time: Approximately 1 hr, 15 min, no intermission.
Advisory: Language, violence, and guns throughout.
Rage runs through November 16, 2014 in the Mead Theatre Lab at FLASHPOINT, 916 G Street, NW, Washington, DC, 20001. Tickets start at $10 and can be purchased from www.aticc.org or by calling 703.475.4036.