Playwright Naomi Iizuka tackles a difficult subject with grace, honesty and even a sense of poetry in Good Kids. The University of Pittsburgh Department of Theatre Arts does full justice to the 2014 one-act with a solid ensemble directed by Kimberly Griffin and Lisa Jackson-Shebetta in the intimate Henry Heymann Theatre.
Much of the play draws upon the 2012 rape by members of the Steubenville High School football team of a girl from West Virginia (“across the river,” noted several times in Good Kids), and its subsequent explosion on social media. The various assaults upon the unconscious victim were cheerfully, often jeeringly recorded on the boys’ phones and widely texted to friends and posted on Internet sites.
How could “good kids” commit such a monstrous act and boast about it? How could their classmates, “good kids,” join in the shame-and-blame game on a fellow teenager, another “good kid”? Iizuka plays with time, weaving the action from the immediate aftermath of the crime with its lead-up, probing the perspectives of the students. Before the incident, Good Kids targets the unknowability of the Truth and the evanescence of Belief. After the crime, Good Kids focuses on Guilt: shared, dodged and reluctantly accepted. Lives are shattered. Many questions, but no satisfactory answers.
(The play, though not explicit, can be very upsetting, especially for audience members with shared experiences. Counselors are available at every performance.)
There are indeed good kids in this show, particularly Stefanie McGowan as the mysterious narrator; Bri Ana Wagner mixing innocence and horror as the victim; and Kayleigh Rozwat as the high school queen bee. The perps are played by Zachary Romah, Tanner Prime, James Williamson and Dasi Nanji. K.J. Gilmer’s costumes are regular student clothes, unlinking “provocative dress” as a motive. Gianni Downs’ set, likewise stark, evokes “text speak” on printed panels.
The Pitt student cast numbers 12, the same as a jury. Good Kids delivers a solid judgment on the pervasive problem of sexual assault and how the community — whether a small town or college campus — deals with it.