The term “stet” comes from the Latin to “let stand” and is the instruction given by an editor when an alteration made to a text should be ignored in favor of what was originally written. It is also the title of a new play by Kim Davies based on the incidents surrounding Rolling Stone’s article about a particularly brutal campus rape. The piece was eventually retracted over erroneous reporting methods. What remained, though, was a heightened awareness that these crimes were all too common. While this production should be commended for reigniting that important conversation as well as raising money for the advocacy group Take Back the Night, sadly and astonishingly it falls short of being an engaging theatrical experience.
The director, Tony Speciale, also holds a co-developer credit, so it is surprising he has given himself so many challenges with moving forward what should be a compelling story. The characters are often separated by their cellphones and walls, deadening what should be emotional undercurrent. Lead actress and another co-developer Jocelyn Kuritsky seems rudderless as she moves through the story. Her poorly defined often strident reporter, Erika, is neither ambitious nor caring enough. Far better is Bruce McKenzie, who is genuine as Phil, her encouraging but off course editor who takes on the delicate subject of a gang rape at a college fraternity. (This echoes the content of the Rolling Stone piece from a few years ago.) Another standout is Déa Julien as a well-intentioned recent graduate who has been tasked by the college to counsel rape victims.
Yet, what could be a deeply affecting event never moves beyond the surface. Clearly the biggest problem is the script itself. There is an important message to be delivered about how the media attaches a scale to the impact of one rape story over another. There is also the way society persists in maintaining different rules for different genders. Neither of these potential themes is properly explored. Too many stretches are talky exchanges with none of the raw impact essential to bring us in. The scenes drift along without a central viewpoint. As a result, we find out little about these characters other than their connection to a violent and appalling act. Even Ashely, who is the victim of the crime and the heart of Erika’s story, is a shell of a person. Here the story telling is so vague, the truth remains in doubt without enough to ponder.
Stet is obviously a labor of love for the Abingdon Theater and its collaborators. I hope they continue to develop this brave work so that it becomes all they intend it to be. It was recently extended through July 10 and tickets are available at http://abingdontheatre.org/stet/.
What say you?