‘Really Really’ is a cautionary tale from Generation Me

‘Really Really’ is a cautionary tale from Generation Me
From left, Danny Gavigan (as Jimmy), Paul James (as Johnson) and Evan Casey (as Cooper) talking about last night’s big party in “Really Really,” at Shirlington’s Signature Theatre through March 25. (Scott Suchman)

Playwright Paul Downs Colaizzo wants his audiences to know that his play was inspired by three seminal moments in his young life. The first was seeing “Doubt,” a play by John Patrick Shanley that filled him with excitement and dread.  Excitement that “Theatre could be amazing” and dread that it “operates on very few rules and offers no guarantees,” he said

His second aha moment was, “the unfolding of an investigation concerning several college students’ involvement in a brutal crime before his graduation from New York University — an event that challenged the senior to rethink his own relationships and the questionable character of his peers.

The third marked influence came from the Jean Twenge book, “Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled – And More Miserable Than Ever Before.”

“I thought of myself as an obvious exception, when in reality, that mentality alone made me the prototype,” he reveals with a refreshing honesty.

It’s difficult to be patient with the Generation Me college students in “Really Really” because they are depicted as crass, self-indulgent wannabes, utterly lacking in personal responsibility, while living in a bubble of entitlement and lax morals.  Colaizzio wants us to take them as they are, “members of what the older generation has created,” as he describes it.

That’s a hard pill to swallow, but fodder for reflection.

Leigh (Bethany Anne Lind) and Jimmy (Danny Gavigan) share an intimate moment in “Really Really,” at Signature Theatre through March 25. (Scott Suchman)

The world premiere play, an X-rated production reminiscent of the long-running sitcom “Friends,” shows Colaizzo’s formidable talent as a comedy writer.  Yet aside from the clever comic relief, we are still faced with the dilemma of caring about a self-serving, scurrilous, homophobic, sexist and conniving group of students with paper-thin allegiances. It’s a poisonous brew compounded by their steady alcohol consumption and interminable attempts to hook up and share the deets.

Grace (Lauren Culpepper) and Leigh (Bethany Anne Lind) are roomies.  Their male counterparts Johnson (Paul James), Davis (Jake Odmark), and Cooper (Evan Casey) are on the rugby team and share a frat-house-style apartment replete with the requisite beer refrigerator and video games. Jimmy (Danny Gavigan), Leigh’s conflicted boyfriend and son of the college’s dean, lives alone, making regular visits to Leigh, much to Grace’s dismay. Smooth scene transitions are accomplished by Misha Kachman’s set design, which places their two apartments side-by-side on the Ark’s long yet narrow stage.

The play opens as Grace and Leigh stagger home laughing hysterically from attending the boys’ annual blowout kegger. The following morning Grace leaves town to deliver a speech to the Future Leaders of America and we begin to sense the morality theme of the play. Hoping to inspire her young attendees to take personal responsibility for their actions, she prophetically warns, “A great part of the formula for success is the ability to say ‘no’,” and notes ironically that all the personal communications devices used by the Me Generation start with the letter ‘I’.

After an accusation and follow-up investigation of the party’s activities, the friends are forced to face the consequences of their reckless lifestyle and betrayals rise to surface like fresh beer suds, as battle lines are drawn between the sexes and lies of convenience are held out as barter.

But memories of the fateful night are clouded. Was there a date rape? Or was it a fantasy? Everyone’s too drunk to remember, or are they?

“Really Really” is a cautionary tale with a familiar ring — that of the headline-grabbing trial of privileged college scion George Huguely V in the ongoing Yardley Love case, where similar patterns of alcohol, parties, hook-ups and violence are a familiar way of life on a college campus.

Fine performances radiate from the ensemble cast, with Lind in the lead crafting a nuanced portrait of the sociopathic coed Leigh.

“Really Really” runs through March 25 at Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Avenue, Shirlington. For tickets and information call 703-820-9771 or visit www.signature-theatre.org.