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Male Sexual Privilege Has Been a Refuge for the Morally Repugnant, as Shown in 'Freak Storm' 

click to enlarge stage-credit_brian_armour.jpg

Photo by Brian Armour

There's a knock on the door. The man inside doesn't want to open it, because he knows it's the end for him, and those like him. But the woman to whom he's engaged has the courage to open the door. And then what happens is ...

That's how the play Freak Storm at None Too Fragile Theater concludes. But if you think it also serves as a spot-on metaphor for what's happening to the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, you wouldn't be accused of hallucinating.

This play, written in 2002 by Matt Pelfrey, is a darkly comical and shivering look inside the male psyche, built around a gang rape three men committed when they were younger. Turns out that woman, Jana, is not only a victim, she is either a real or spectral presence that the guys see following them wherever they go.

It's a little amazing that this one-act play, scheduled months ago and directed by Sean Derry, opened a day after the riveting hearing about the alleged sexual assault of Catherine Blasey Ford by Judge Kavanaugh when they both were in high school. The juxtaposition of these two events — one of immense national and even international significance, and the other happening at a tiny theater in Akron — speak to how art and culture can align in surprising and revealing ways.

Both the play and our current reality bring into sharp focus how insanely out-of-balance the power dynamics between men and women are. In Pelfrey's incisive and shocking piece, two guys, Ian and Gil, are on the road to attend the wedding of their old pal Adam, who is marrying Lynn. But both the dudes in the car are visibly stressed by something. As Ian says, "This is all an attempt to scare us."

We have no idea what he's talking about until they arrive at the small crib where Adam and Lynn are playing kissy-face and attempting to get it on. But as Adam looks out the window, he sees a gaunt woman standing silently in the rain, staring at the house. He ignores her as just another homeless woman, a person of no consequence.

But once his buddies arrive and they start interacting, the cracks start showing. Ian, played splendidly with bully-boy bravado by Brian Kenneth Armour, has no problem putting the others in their place. Ian, an African-American, shuts up Gil with some "ghetto" put-downs, insults the masculinity of Adam, and attempts to silence Lynn when she objects to his reflexive use of the word "bitch" in various contexts. But Ian ain't worried about no damn woman, no matter her complaints.

As Gil, Benjamin Gregorio is a bundle of nerves that are right on the surface. And that's not surprising since he's toting two large glass jars containing the evidence of the rape of Jana years before. And there is supposedly a third jar, one for each of the rapists. What's in the jars? Well, let's just say the contents are soaked in formaldehyde. Gregorio underplays his lines beautifully at times, pulling uneasy laughs from the audience.

As Adam watches all this unfold in his living room, while keeping an eye out for the woman outside, he tries to keep his relationship with Lynn on course. James Rankin morphs nicely from a guy enjoying his last few hours of bachelorhood to a man pursued inexorably by his past. And Kelly Strand — the only woman who speaks since Madison Ellis as Jana simply stands and stares —makes the most of her words as she fights against the flow of toxic testosterone around her.

In a way, it seems surprising that a play like this was written more than 15 years ago, long before the Kavanaugh-Ford drama was injected into our civic bloodstream. But in another way it's not surprising at all since the casual, pro forma, and often invisible sexual assault and abuse of women has been going on for eons. It only gets our attention when a woman of enormous courage such as Dr. Ford emerges to tell her story.

Or when a man, such as Ian in this play, attempts to eliminate the evidence by stuffing the contents of one of the jars down the garbage disposal.

Apparently, that's what it takes to finally raise the awareness of what has been happening to women since time immemorial. Those small sexual digs and slights can eventually lead to verbal attacks and then, in some cases, physical assaults ending in rape and even murder. Yet many men — let's call it a storm of freaks from priests to politicians and from esteemed athletic coaches to anonymous factory floor supervisors — seem offended that such behavior would even be commented on or reported, let alone punished. Such is the unassailable bastion of entitled, oblivious and condescending male privilege.

But we are in the middle of a week when that bastion is being challenged. Challenged by art such as Pelfrey's incisive play and by women and their male allies who will not back down. There is a knock on the door; women are answering it.

And what must happen next is ... change.

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