Tracing a Rumor

A chronic mistrust between the sexes takes center stage in WorkShop Theater Company’s She Said, She Said, an ensemble story that appears to have been designed to initiate discussion about issues beyond its scope. Its six characters float in and out of its framework, each conveying a finely drawn archetype and serving a very deliberate purpose. There’s a twenty-something whose sexuality teeters between objectification and empowerment, a victim of domestic violence who is hesitant to label herself as such, and an impassioned old-school feminist. As its title indicates, She Said, She Said focuses on the consequences of telling the truth and relying on word-of mouth accounts of a past event. We learn early on that a rape may have taken place inside a crumpling marriage, but never have the opportunity to witness the incident in question. As in watching John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt, we begin to study its characters’ mannerisms, words and reactions to discover who is lying and why. Although Jamie’s (Shelley McPherson) account of her husband’s violent actions feels convincing, the offstage nature of the play’s central event prompts us to view it with an investigative eye.

Men are the perpetrators in She Said, She Said, but the moral ambiguity of its two male characters also serves to their advantage. While its women feel at times excessively familiar, we cannot help but want to learn more about the men who complicate their lives.

Writer Kathryn Chetkovich, whose background is in authoring short stories, allows characters Dan (Tom Berdik) and Ross (Mark Hofmaier) ample time to show the range of their frustration, and strong performances only add to the simultaneously sympathetic and frightening nature of their characters. As Ross, Jamie’s husband with an ominous angry side, Mark Hofmaier is a particular standout. Projecting an unexpected sadness into his posture and glare, he manages to avoid turning Ross into a villain, and instead deepens our curiosity about the play’s most divisive character.

The play’s four women, meanwhile, offer a convincing portrayal of female friendship. Dee Dee Friedman’s fiery Nina sometimes tips the balance of an otherwise delicate scene, but many of us are likely to recognize this personality type in our own circles of friends. Ashley Anderson, meanwhile, injects a sense of pride and ownership into CoCo, a young waitress whose tendency to attract men’s attentions turns out to be more of a personal crutch than a source of power.

Mark Symczak’s elegant stage design provides an added level of artistry and symbolism into the production. Layered white curtains punctuate scene changes, serve as a canvas for projected family photographs, and allow the stage to morph from a living room into a neighborhood bar. This approach results in quick, smooth transitions from one scene to the next, as it eliminates the need to lug furniture around the stage.

As an example of a neatly edited play, She Said, She Said is a success. The play was polished into its final form over several years at WorkShop Theater Company’s development seminars, and the final product includes almost nothing extraneous or distracting. Because every turning point in the plot takes place offstage, its characters come across as talky and passive at points, but by the time it reaches its ambiguous final scene, their brooding desperation just might feel eerily familiar.

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