William Mastrosimone's 1982 thriller, Extremities, is exactly the sort of play one wishes were laughably dated by now. Sadly, from Steubenville, Ohio, to New Delhi, India, the issue of sexual violence against women is still horrifically relevant, lending GOAT's gutsy production of this notorious script emotional resonance.
Marjorie (Jennifer Bonner) is just getting ready for a full day of doing nothing when a stranger (Stephen Lima) unexpectedly enters her home. His evil intent is quickly evident, and in the opening minutes the audience is made unwilling witness to an agonizingly extended attempted rape. We naturally root for Marjorie when she turns the tables on her assailant, but our sympathies start to shift as she begins brutally torturing her victimizer. Marjorie's roommates, Terry (Cara Fullam) and Patricia (Caitlin Bowden Carney), return home in time to become accomplices in her desperate plan to circumvent the criminal justice system by murdering and burying the intruder.
As you may surmise from this synopsis, Extremities has much in common with the pulpy damsel-in-distress potboilers found on the Lifetime Movie Network. The 30-year-old dialogue has been slightly updated with references to cell phones and Osama, but the race-baiting "stranger danger" hysteria (80 percent of rape victims are actually attacked by acquaintances) can seem as much an artifact of the Reagan era as the "rape whistle" Terry wears. The show's continuing effectiveness must therefore rely on the intensity of the central performances, and on that score director Paul Castaneda's casting has succeeded.
Jennifer Bonner cements her status as one of Orlando's hardest-working actresses – she's simultaneously appearing in SAK's new live sitcom, Better Days – with a physically and emotionally exhausting eruption of terror, guilt and rage; her Marjorie is closer to the earthiness of Susan Sarandon, who originated the role off Broadway, than Farrah Fawcett's brittle glamour in the 1986 film. Lima once again erases his own natural nice-guy-ness to embody an animalistic ickiness, oozing insidious charisma even as he's bleeding in a fireplace. And Fullam nearly steals the show with her nuanced delivery of a devastating second-act soliloquy.
The raw emotions on display are compelling, especially when expressed through Bill Warriner's breathtakingly brutal fight choreography. The real problem is that these aren't dimensional humans on stage, but spokespeople in a screaming match about gender politics. We never get a glimpse of who Marjorie was before the assault, so her instantaneous transformation from Everywoman to avenging angel has no inherent emotional honesty – it's up to the actors to inject it. If you enjoy excruciating portrayals of human suffering, these impassioned performances make the misery unforgettable. If not, for your own sake, avoid sitting in the front row.
Through Jan. 26
Greater Orlando Actors Theatre
2431 Aloma Ave., Winter Park