Party’s over

It’s every millennial for himself in new Chico State production

Roomies Leigh and Grace, Alexandria Hilsee (left) and Robin Tucker, respectively.

Roomies Leigh and Grace, Alexandria Hilsee (left) and Robin Tucker, respectively.

Photo courtesy of Chico State School of the Arts

Really Really shows Thursday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m., and Saturday-Sunday, 2 p.m., through March 5, at Wismer Theatre.
Tickets: $6-$15
Wismer Theatre
Chico State

There is probably a mathematical equation that could predict outcomes of a party during which Lil Jon screams “Shots!” at attendees:

Lil Jon + Patron + X = Why?

Really Really, the latest production from the Music and Theatre Department at Chico State, opens with a college party—an unseen affair marked only by the sound of a brief announcement of a party host followed by the blaring chorus of that Lil Jon/LMFAO call to action: “Shots! Shots! Shot-shot-shots!”

After that introduction, the first scene opens with two female college roommates stumbling through the front door of their home after the mysterious rager, laughing and propping each other up as they pour themselves into bed. There are clues that something might be awry, but it isn’t until they wake up that the questions of what did—and didn’t—happen the night before start to be asked. It turns out that something terrible has transpired, and as the violent act is gradually revealed, it becomes just the most heinous example of insidious, self-serving behavior running through the play’s sampling of student characters.

Supposedly, playwright Paul Downs Colaizzo meant for his work to be a commentary on his fellow millennials and the challenges they face in present-day America, a point underlined during a speech in the play: “We will make our way in spite of the fact that the America this generation has been given is not the America that this generation was told we would get.”

But other than that assertion, the millennial connection didn’t really resonate as I watched the final dress rehearsal. Which was fine by me. Because what the play seemed to really be about was something much more universal: that often confusing rite of passage that is college in America. And thanks to extraordinary performances by director Cynthia Lammel’s cast of fearless student actors, the play succeeds at painting a very visceral picture of a particularly turbulent example of coming-of-age humans interacting.

Robin Tucker and Alexandria Hilsee play roomies Grace and Leigh, and each was fully committed to her disparate role. Tucker was radiant as the sweetly generous but ruthless ladder-climbing “future leader” Grace, and Hilsee was at turns fragile and frightening as she met the challenge of her dichotomous character who was both victim and manipulator.

And Owen Hansen was truly captivating as Cooper, playing the hard-partying, shit-stirring, preppy degenerate with a natural confidence and grace that makes me curious to see what he’ll do in his next role.

Lara Tenckhoff, Jack Carmassi, Steven Tyler Sprague and Nick McCollum were pitch perfect in their respective roles as Leigh’s visiting white-trash sister, the high-strung overachiever, a slightly douchey son of the dean (and Leigh’s fiancé), and the pretty boy with pent-up rage.

There are no clear-cut heroes or villains here. Which is refreshing. There’s also no happy ending. Ultimately, the play is about gaining power over one’s life by any means, and each of the characters in his or her own way plays every angle and advantage to secure a profitable future. Of course, we know what they say about what power does to people—not to mention to those who fall victim to the corruption—and in the end, in an unflinchingly brutal manner, the play leaves us with that very cold reality.

As for the suggestion that—facing a world of diminished opportunities—it’s every millennial for himself? That reality is not unique to these times. Long before Generation Me there was the Me Generation, and any punk band, rapper or aging Beat poet can tell you that the American experiment has failed whole generations many times over. It’s just the millennials’ turn.

Warning/spoiler alert: There’s a note in the program explaining that there will be Rape Crisis Intervention and Prevention counselors on hand at performances of Really Really, and for good reason. The play features graphic discussions and depictions of sexual violence that could trigger trauma.