He-said-she-said takes on rich meaning in "Actually" at Williamstown Theatre Festival

WILLIAMSTOWN — Anna Ziegler's memorable new play, "Actually" — which is having a riveting co-world premiere through Sunday at Williamstown Theatre Festival's Nikos Stage in collaboration with Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles — begins with a game called "two truths and a lie" in which one person is given three statements by another person and asked to determine which statement is the lie.

The two people in this case are Tom (Joshua Boone), an amiable, sincere, likable young man with ambition for building a professional career from his talent for playing piano, who is full of swagger, confidence, a kind of cockiness, a way with women in particular and people in general that is genuine and ingratiating; and Amber (Alexandra Socha), bright, curious, impulsive, a bit reckless and yielding, and given to talking incessantly when she is nervous or feeling particularly vulnerable. She's been left sexually crippled, in an emotional sense, chiefly from a singularly unpleasant experience with her best friend Rachel's brother on a particularly meaningful day during senior year in high school.

Tom is black; Amber is Jewish. They are freshmen at Princeton, where they meet at a mixer. And before "Actually" runs its course, truth will have developed multiple personalities when Amber charges Tom with having sexually assaulted her in a dorm room after the mixer.

The dual alternating — occasionally overlapping — narratives are being pitched at some point following a "trial' — "It was a hearing but it felt like a trial," Amber says — at Princeton heard by a panel of three "neutral" appointees, Tom is told by a man named Leslie from Princeton's Office of the Vice Provost of Institutional Equity and Diversity.

All Tom is looking to do is take advantage of an opportunity his dead father, a math wiz and skilled point guard as a kid, squandered away in drinking and fighting.

Nothing is simple for either Tom or Amber, who are at points in their respective lives at which they are each trying to figure life out, especially how, at a young age, to navigate in a culture which treats each of them as a victim — Tom because of race; Amber because of religion and gender.

"In some ways I've been on trial my whole life," Tom says at one point

"Actually" is not a typical he-said-she-said play about sexual assault on college campuses. The tone throughout is heartfelt and authentic; not given over to melodrama and theatrics but, rather, pain, confusion, anger, and, yes, humor, all of arises naturally as a function of who Amber and Tom are. Indeed, there is the suggestion through Boone and Socha's affecting performances that Tom and Amber, though a bit wiser after whatever time has elapsed since the hearing they are each still trying to piece things together.

Ziegler has written an honest, open play whose characters are fully formed; whose points of view, attitudes, and thoughts arise from within, from who they are as dimensional human beings, rather than mouthpieces in a polemical debate.

Whatever answers are to be found in "Actually" are not easy. Just like life.

Reach Jeffrey Borak at 413-496-6212


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