Rashomon goes to college

Alexandra's Web

By H. Richard Silver
Directed by Alexa Kelly
Pulse Ensemble Theatre
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by Adrienne Onofri

Ever since Anita Hill told the Senate Judiciary Committee about a certain can of Coke, he said/she said versions of sexually charged encounters have become more common fodder for playwrights and screenwriters. Even when the work as a whole may be dramatically unsound or otherwise flawed, this basic premise -- how can two people relating on such an intimate level interpret their interaction so differently? -- intrigues.

That was the case with H. Richard Silver's Alexandra's Web, recently given its world premiere by Pulse. Some plot points were fuzzy or implausible and a couple of the performances were subpar, but the suspense surrounding the validity of an adult woman's claim of childhood sexual assault was strong.

Alexandra Morgan goes to see former lover John Armour, a book editor, with a manuscript she has written detailing numerous affairs she's had with faculty members of the university where she teaches. If published, Alexandra's book would sully the reputation of many well-respected friends of John's father, Calvin, an ethics professor at the college. Alexandra also alleges that Calvin, who had been a colleague of her professor father, raped her when she was 16 (and he was married).

Silver attempts to flesh out Alexandra's relationships with all three men -- John, Calvin and her father -- in order to present them as counterpoints to one another, or interconnected factors in her psyche, but too much in the script seems uneven or unlikely to produce a truly solid drama. For instance, it isn't clear whether Alexandra's promiscuity was compensation for the shame and trauma caused by the rape or part of a vengeful plan to gather blackmailing ammunition. Then there's a whole subplot about Alexandra's having to re-bury her father in different cemeteries every so often, per his request. She eventually realizes his point was to teach her not to dwell on the past -- but since the play suggests he keeled over dead from a heart attack right after she told him she had been raped, when did he formulate this plan? Furthermore, the professional reality is that regardless of the pressure Alexandra puts on John, he would not be in a position to greenlight publication of her book on his own.

Ezra Nanes, who played John, was the standout in the cast -- he displayed many leading-man qualities and his looks and demeanor were consistent with his character. Former Rockette Heather Berman was believable portraying a teenager in the flashbacks, but her delivery as the adult Alexandra was stilted. Bill Barnett, as her father, also was deficient in inflection, and neither convincingly projected the intellect or persona of an academic. David Winton sufficed as Calvin, although the surprising resolution of the play made it difficult to know what to make of his character -- and his performance reflected it somewhat.

(Sets, Rachel Nemec; costumes, Terry Leong; lighting/sound, Louis Lopardi.)

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Sets: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2002 Adrienne Onofri