'Before they believe a woman in court, she has to be dead on arrival."
More than any line in William Mastrosimone's "Extremities," the 1982 sexual-assault play, that one still rings true. The truth remains: It's not uncommon for men and, yes, even women, to judge that the victim was "asking for it."
HITfest, formerly Naked Stage, presents a 30th-anniversary production of "Extremities." (A recorded soundtrack reminds us how long it's been. Police, anyone?) It features Minerva Scelza, who directs an East End domestic violence shelter, as the assault target.
Marjorie is home alone when a stranger barges in. Instinctively realizing the danger, she lies about a boyfriend asleep upstairs. But the intruder knows better. Raul -- he's a serial rapist -- has been stalking Marjorie. He knows when her roommates, female, will be gone. He pounces on her and seeks compliance with a smothering pillow.
What happens next is crucial to the play's credibility. Marjorie turns the tables on Raul by spraying wasp poison in his eyes. Somehow, she renders him unconscious and chains him inside the fireplace. Director Tristan Vaughan has chosen to accomplish Marjorie's feat by simply going to black. When lights go back up, Raul -- played with menacing street-wise wits by Joseph De Sane -- is her prisoner.
But moving past this deflating blackout, Vaughan's "Extremities" recovers. Scelza injects Marjorie with an adrenaline rush of survivor's anti-heroism. Her glowering presence tests our sympathy for the victim with unrelenting vigilantism. As first pitiable Terry (pliably played by Lydia Franco-Hodges), then logical Patricia (a maddening Molly McKenna), return home, they inexorably drift to the side of the more apparent victim -- the blindfolded guy chained to the flue.
They spout heretofore-secret resentments: "You're not happy till you have every man begging for it."
But if rape is hard to prove, how about attempted rape? Only the audience knows what happened. The roommates are co-opted by their own fears and the assailant's play on their sympathies. ("Now I know how Christ felt.") Meanwhile, Perp and Victim are incapable of objectivity.
Warning to prospective audiences, plus a recommendation: The language in "Extremities" is vile but necessary to convey such atrocities. And in Bridgehampton Community House's tiny black box theater (homey set by Devon Leaver), it's best to arrive early. Grab a seat upfront, where sightlines are ideal for a life-or-death struggle.
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through May 27, Bridgehampton Community House, 2357 Montauk Hwy.
INFO $20, 631-525-2995, extremities-hitfest.event brite.com