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Theatre Southwest Puts the Tingle in Extremities

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The set-up:

Who would ever think that a creepy play about rape and revenge would be such a diverting Sunday afternoon's delight? But Theatre Southwest's production of Extremities has put the tingle into William Mastrosimone's Off-Broadway hit.

The execution:

The plot is fairly basic, all the better when it turns creepy. Psychotic stalker Raul (Kevin Daugherty) has set his sadistic sights on the lonely farmhouse shared by Marjorie (Elizabeth Marshall Black) and her two roommates, Patricia (Kelly Walker) and Terry (Melanie Martin). He's done his homework with flair, knowing when Marjorie would be alone, and stealing mail to get the psychological edge on the women and to set in place some nifty plot twists.

The play's been around since 1982, filmed with TV icon and Charlie's Angel star Farrah Fawcett, so it's no spoiler to report that Marjorie turns the tables on her attacker. To his utter dismay, Raul finds himself tied up in the fireplace, having been blinded with bug spray, doused with boiling water and ammonia, smashed with a hammer, and constantly poked with the fireplace equipment whenever he becomes snarky. All his torturous travails are greeted with whoops of appreciation from the audience, who applaud Marjorie's spunky ingenuity at extracting revenge for the "animal's" beastly behavior.

Then the fun really begins. One by one, the roommates return and their various reactions to Marjorie becoming like her attacker set the play spinning. At times the preaching goes a bit overboard and didactic, but the tension throughout is palpable. Rational Terry doesn't want to get involved, arguing that rape didn't actually take place and they should just turn him into the police, while Pat, the unwavering social worker, grills Marjorie's plans and finds them wanting. Marjorie has a simple solution for Raul: bury him alive. No one will miss him.

Meanwhile, Raul works his wiles on the women, playing them against each other trying to get their sympathy. He didn't do anything, he whines convincingly. Marjorie attacked him. Look at me, he pleads, look what she did to me. He wheedles info from Terry when Marjorie leaves to dig the hole in the garden, and later soft-soaps Pat to give him some bread and even finagles Marjorie to allow Pat to unlock the fireplace screen to prove she's humane and fair. Every time someone steps a foot closer to the fireplace, our hearts start racing. We've lived through enough low-rent slasher flicks in which the meanie jumps back into life and scares us to death, so we naturally catch our breath that Raul will spring out in some spectacular, unbelievable escape and wreak more vengeance.

Black is an avenging angel on a mission. Righteous and indignant after the horrible attempted rape, she takes command with force. There's no messing with her. She can't believe that her roommates would doubt her version. "Me or him, choose!" she screams. Matching her every step is Daugherty, who makes psycho Raul a chilling portrait in sexual sadism. His pitying cries from inside the fireplace might very well turn the women's heads, if we hadn't seen what he was capable of doing to Marjorie at the start of the play. The attack is chilling, and the table-turning is exciting physical theater. For this, praises go to director Malinda Beckham and her valiant actors, who don't flinch from the seedy and sordid. They go for it!

The verdict:

Mastrosimone's moral fable is highly theatrical, and Theatre Southwest embroiders it with highly intricate handiwork. They weave like spiders.

Marjorie's revenge on this particularly bad man gets physical through June 16 at Theatre Southwest, 8944-A Clarkcrest. Purchase tickets online at the company website or call 713-661-9505. Tickets are $14 to $16.

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