The Theatre Tattler on “Retraction”

Retraction, recently produced as part of the New Works Festival by Create Theater and
Prism Stage Company

a review by Yvonne Tutetelli, The Theatre Tattler

A powerful play, based on a real news story, recently closed on Theatre Row.
“Retraction”, written by Houston’s David Z. Gutierrez, made for a passionately driven
rainy Saturday, once I fought my way across midtown and landed in my seat. The play
gets its life from a Rolling Stone article, published around 2014 and penned by female
journalist Sabrina Erdely. Apparently it was written and retracted. It chronicled the
news of a real life investigative reporter, who, at the time, had written extensively on the
theme of sexual abuse taking place on college campuses. This was during a time when
it indeed seemed that sexual violence would become the epidemic that high school
shooting accidents now are.

But in the teens of 2000, the incident surrounded the story of a girl who either did or
didn’t cry wolf. Did she actually suffer a rape on the Catholic college campus?
Retraction seeks to make us aware of the vagaries of journalism. It focuses on the rape
victim, the needing to have her story told, accurately. In the case of Retraction, the
legitimacy of the victim’s charges, and the questioning of them, ultimately hold the
reporter to task.

What starts as an expose to blow the top off an every-increasing phenomenon, rape —
on young women across the nation– and what would become, in our great progress to
be be redefined broadly as “crimes of passion” to “crimes of sexual misconduct”, the
onus, for time untold, has been on women, often held greatly responsible for
participating in their own violation.

Was Lacey wearing the wrong outfit? What was Lacey doing in that fraternity house in
the first place? Did she know the boy she went out with well? How well?

Roya Shanks shines as the reporter extraordinaire, seeking to raise the torch of
awareness as the growing number of campus rapes rises. Lacey (Aurora Greenfield)
really makes one wonder. Lacey is introduced by the strikingly impassioned Gillian
(Gabby Policano), herself a rape victim. It is Gillian who brings Lacey’s story to the
attention of Wendy, and the timing couldn’t be better. Lacey’s story serendipitously falls
into Wendy’s lap and she scoops it, leaving no stone unturned, or so we think.
But the biggest sodden stone is on the path to both Shank’s character’s success as a
journalist, and the future of the publication she writes for. The permission to print the
story hangs on Lacey’s honesty and permission, along with the time-driven competitive
nature of breaking the story; whether it is or whether it isn’t true. Is Lacy naive or
provocative? Needy or an actual victim? Did she cause her own rape’? Was the ‘boy’

Our star reporter’s story becomes more urgent and Lacey’s truth becomes the driving
concern. Lacey’s past may have actually warranted her honing some huge whoppers to
gain much-needed attention. As an audience, we begin to wonder if Lacey is even
telling the truth in the first place. Credibility corrals the Wendy’s credentials, whose
reporting career lies in the lurch. The perceived gaps in her investigative process prove
catastrophic to the tale, the telling of the tale, and the actual progress or lack thereof in
the real-time brought-to-reckoning reporting and prosecuting of sexual acts performed
against women. In real life. For this story, there is a price all women paid.

Of all the scenes, the newspaper office interchanges were my favorite. Watching office
squibbles with editor Zach Lipsk, crafted to perfection by actor (Tait Ruppert), and
Wendy, the determined and climbing female reporter was reminiscent of scenes in a
less serious newsroom where we were witness reporter Mary and editor Lou Grant go
at it.

After a round or two, Zipsky sanctions Wendy with the go-ahead, and she’s given
free rein to get story and to get it right. And soon– before another competitive
newspaper or magazine jumps the line. And so it occurs that The Washington Post
uncovers Wendy’s journalistic flaw via reporter Victor Marguiles (Joseph Dardano).
We have Wendy, the voice of the media and the big story, finding her voice while
attempting to tell a story that depends on an honest confession, complete with
supporting details.

The other victim in the piece is, of course, Lacey, portrayed as potentially unstable. Her
little fling with heartthrob Travis (Austin Weyant) points clearly to this. She must have
her story pulled out of her until she suddenly finds her voice and is able to recall the
crime as it happened. Both female protagonists lose their voices, not only to the
preoccupation with news and media’s ability to get it wrong, but each leave a loophole
in the telling of a tale, ultimately, of female disempowerment.

Does the reporter simply need this tale to tell to beef up her thesis? Did the story
expose an increasing number of sexual assault crimes committed against women? Did
it codify the code in which crimes like these can be discussed or does it exonerate the
victim, and punish the messenger?

An interesting and arresting afternoon of good theater. Kudos to the great ensemble
cast and all techies working on this fast-pasted attention-getting performance. Thank

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