‘Back the Night’ A Complicated Affair (3.5 Stars)
By Michele Markarian
‘Back the Night – Written by Melinda Lopez. Directed by Daniela Varon. Presented by Boston Playwrights’ Theater, 949 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston through February 28.
From the minute the curtain rises, the stakes for “Back the Night” are high. Cassie (Amanda Collins) is rushed into a dorm room in the arms of her friend Sean (Evan Horwitz). She has been attacked, and is bleeding profusely, much to her best friend Em’s (Melissa Jesser) dismay, who insists that she sees the nurse and campus police. As weeks pass and Cassie’s assailant can’t be found, Em realizes that there are pieces of Cassie’s story that don’t add up. But Cassie’s injury and subsequent publicity has already taken on a life of its own, and somehow the facts don’t seem to matter – everyone has an attack story and a self-involved agenda.
‘Back the Night’ has some interesting moments about what it means to be a woman – the vulnerability, the attacks that go unreported because somehow we feel responsible, the different ways that we relate to men and with each other. As Cassie’s notoriety as a brave victim gains strength – she was previously notorious for publishing a little-read blog with crime stats against women – her bond with Em diminishes. Em, it turns out, is also a victim of a crime that she has little desire to make public.
The deep friendship between the women is the core of the piece and understandably, Em is not thrilled with the thought that the facts of Cassie’s alleged assault are unclear. I remember my senior year in college, when one of our classmates was deliberately careless with her birth control, in order to have the abortion that seemed to be de rigueur. All of us were horrified and more than concerned with her mental stability. Yet somehow, none of these issues are really addressed between the friends, other than the accusation that Cassie’s actions have raised her blog stats and gained her a plum job at Salon.com.
The talented Amanda Collins, who played such a different character in “Saving Kitty”, is terrific as the quietly determined Cassie. As Em, Amanda Jesser exudes magnetism, but she has the harder role to play – Em’s motives are not as singular and focused as Cassie’s. Evan Horwitz is appealing as Sean, and Michael Underhill as Em’s frat boyfriend Brandon is sympathetic and believable.
‘Back the Night’ veers between earnest after-school special and social satire. One of my favorite scenes is the parade that is organized on campus for Cassie and other victims, where fraternities, LGBT groups and a Senator push their own agendas forward under the guise of sisterly support (anyone watching the election coverage of 2016 will appreciate this). Much of the dialogue feels strident and forced. But Lopez really brings home the fact that women are our own worst enemy – we are held back because not all of us really want to be strong. “I hate – women”, reveals Em, before admitting that our history of victimhood, our long list of grievances, repels her. I get it. I really do. The fact that Lopez is brave enough to put this into words is refreshing. For more info, go to: http://www.bu.edu/bpt/our-season/