Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 14, 2017


Williamstown Theatre Festival, Williamstown, MA
through August 20, 2017
by Jarice Hanson

There’s a new trend in pre-show music I’m not crazy about. I’ve attended three shows recently that envelop you in a barrage of techno-sound amped up to an annoying decibel level as you search for your seat and wait for the action to begin. I don’t think this is being done to please the hard-of-hearing. I suspect it’s a weak appeal to a younger audience. When Amber, the female half of this two-hander launched into non-stop chatter my annoyance meter started to peak into the red zone. Certainly, the play, “Actually,” reflects the lives of young people facing their first adult situation, but surely there must be more to a play than whiny people and loud music.

Fortunately, the script has much more going for it, and the two actors, Alexandra Socha (Amber) and Joshua Boone (Tom) are engaging, believable, and fully committed. The location is “Mostly Princeton University” and the time “the present and the past.” Tom is a handsome African American man from a modest background. He is the more charismatic of the two. Amber is a little harder to like. She’s the stereotypical privileged white girl who is a mediocre squash player, because she knows that even a mediocre squash player is an important slot to fill in college. She chatters non-stop and can’t decide whether her favorite book is “Gone Girl” or “The Iliad.” They meet in their first year at Princeton and what evolves is a “did they” or “didn’t they” have consensual sex? True of contemporary college life, alcohol plays a role in distorting their true accounts of what happened.

The set is spare and the movement sparer. Lines are primarily directed to the audience, but when the characters interact, the explosions compel you to watch. Despite the grim theme of the play, there are some genuine funny lines, like “Jews and Blacks have a lot in common. Neither like camping.”

Anna Ziegler is a young playwright who has already had a number of major successes. This show and cast will be headed to the Manhattan Theatre Club this fall, and while the show is ready for New York, I do question whether this is the type of play that will appeal to a younger audience. It may be too real for them.