Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Steve Got Raped” at Fringe NYC 2016 at The Player’s Theatre

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Steve Got Raped” at FringeNYC 2016 at The Player’s Theatre (Closed Saturday August 27, 2016)
Written by Sam Gooley
Directed by Melissa Firlit
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Steve (played with a sincere and charmed ambiguity by James E. Smith) has a lot on his mind. His important story is stalled on his editor’s desk at work and has not yet been published. His fiancé Katie (played with a bubbly ferocity by Sarah Moore) is apparently pregnant – Steve comes home from work early to change his soiled shirt and finds the smiley-face on the trashed pregnancy kit – and has not told him. And he is worried about what kind of bachelor party is being planned for him by his less-than-reliable best friend Derrick (played with an unbalanced loyalty by Dan Morrison). The discovery of the pregnancy kit with the positive result puts Steve in an odd meltdown when he confronts Katie and the couple grapples with the unexpected pregnancy coming so closely on the heels of their imminent nuptials.

Despite the turmoil, Katie convinces Steve to go to his bachelor party and have fun: she is not even worried about the possibility of strippers being present. Flash forward to the morning after the bash in Derrick’s trashed apartment: Steve is sitting hunched over, distraught and disheveled, sans the new pants purchased by Katie for the event. When confronted by Derrick, Steve eventually shares he was raped by one of the strippers. From this significant crisis the play’s falling action becomes somewhat disjointed and sometimes lacks believability.

If Steve got raped at his bachelor party by Ariel (played with a dark mean spiritedness by Mara Gannon) one of the female strippers hired by Steve’s friend Derrick, one would expect a series of repercussions similar to those experienced when a woman is raped by a man. Some of these are evident in Sam Gooley’s “new dark comedy” “Steve Got Raped” – a play based on real events. Others are strikingly absent leaving the audience wondering how successful Mr. Gooley is when addressing the important issues of male rape survivors and the equally important issues of male status and identity.

Steve is ravaged by shame and embarrassment. He fails to share the event with Katie despite her concern that he seems no longer interested in having sex with her. He stops by a rape clinic and is summarily dismissed by the staff. He does not report the incident to the police. All of this seems realistic and Mr. Gooley compares and contrasts the two types of rape victims – female and male – with detailed scenes between all characters, including Steve’s decision to confront Ariel at the strip club where she works. All of this works well.

One would, however, hope for a more serious treatment of the subject of rape, particularly when the victim is a young man at his bachelor party. Katie’s reaction seems somewhat unbelievable – especially given she lies twice about her pregnancy – when she tells Steve, “a girl cannot rape a guy!” In fact, after the rape, “Steve Got Raped” seems to become more about characters struggling with issues of truth: what is truth and are there times/situations when not telling the truth to others or to self is appropriate? Why does Katie lie about being pregnant early on then decide to go to an abortion clinic? Would it not make more sense for her to support Steve in his journey to heling and wholeness? And although Steve and Derrick have a discussion about the possibility of Sheila having a variety of STDs (“Baltimore is like 4th on the STD list”), there is no mention of Steve going for any testing.

Under Melissa Firlit’s well-paced direction, the ensemble cast members play well off one another and bring the issue of male rape to the forefront with a welcomed sensitivity. However, sometimes the script’s insistence on being comedic gets in the way of their ability to explore their characters with necessary depth and intuition.

All of that said, “Steve Got Raped” raises deep and rich enduring questions about rape in general and about male rape specifically. Mr. Gooley is to be commended for his decision to tackle this topic in FringeNYC 2016. Perhaps the comedy here is simply not dark enough to bring the suffering of male rape victims out from the shows of doubt and denial. It is definitely worth visiting this play to begin or to continue the conversation about an issue too often swept under the carpet of shame and denial.