Though sexual assault is never not timely, it’s been getting an extra-special dose of attention due to Bill Cosby and his 50-and-counting accusers, as well as the scrutiny directed at colleges before and after the discredited Rolling Stone account of campus assault and news generated by a White House rape-prevention initiative.
It’s the subject, too, of Drunk Girl, a collection of 16 brief plays, sketches and monologues mostly authored by Josefina López, the founding artistic director of Casa 0101 Theater in Boyle Heights, where the show plays. Despite the title, only about a third of the scenes deal with the intersection of alcohol and sexual violence — though it serves as an effective shorthand for the ways women are blamed. One scene name-checks the disgraced Cosby, yet the most depressing thing may be that the majority of scenes could have unfolded at any time in our generation.
But Drunk Girl isn’t remotely depressing, and that’s part of its problem. Involving 83 characters, nine actors and three directors, squeezed into a breathless 98 minutes, the production is more of an empowerment rally and consciousness-raising seminar. A sketch about a self-defense instructor (Rosa Navarrete) who gets arrested for leveling her would-be attacker demonstrates actual resistance strategies. Later, characters reiterate the brilliantly succinct refrain: “Women love to feel sexy, but we don’t necessarily want sex.”
López clearly felt the topic merited an explicitly instructional approach — and it cites the common rape statistic that one in three American women will be assaulted in their lifetime. On opening night, the audience seemed to respond to both the message and the production’s deliberately zany stylings. The opening skit features a “Red Flag Game Show” with a blaring soundtrack and cartoonish host, in which contestants compete to distinguish a gentleman from a stalker, a creep and a rapist.
As a piece of theater, however, Drunk Girl falls short — there’s little time to develop more than a cursory relationship with the characters, who exist mainly as symbols. In trying to represent a breadth of experience, the show forgets that universality arises first from specificity. Few scenes have staying power, or finish their thoughts to conclusion. Some don’t end so much as fizzle out, cut to black or build to a ludicrous crescendo.
In “Unlucky Man,” a monologue directed by Claudia Duran, a man (Alex Alpharoah) charged with assault by a woman he met in a dance club insists it wasn’t rape because there was no blood or bruising — unlike when he was brutalized in prison. The scene confronts a taboo topic, then backs away: Is López suggesting that being raped turns men into rapists, that some men truly don’t “know the difference,” as he insists, or both? The questions are worth trying to answer. But the scene just ends.
One of the strongest pieces is playwright Rocío Díaz’s “Pink Scars,” directed by Elvia Susana Rubalcava, in which three women of differing ages share their stories of abuse. Each begins by recalling what she was wearing. It’s a powerful metaphor for how rape is a unique trauma for each woman, while pointedly underscoring that their varied clothing (shorts, a pair of jeans) had nothing to do with what followed.
The tone of these pieces — defiant, resilient, refusing to speak in the hushed voices of victims — is admirable, and may help bring in audience members otherwise leery of the topic. But by winnowing its scope to explore more fully a few characters or throughlines, the production might go a longer way toward embedding itself in its audience’s consciousness.
Drunk Girl, through Oct. 18, Casa 0101 Theater, 2102 E. First St., Boyle Heights. (323) 263-7684, casa0101.org.