This powerful play aims to change the way audiences think about campus rape, and it's doing a damn good job
A powerful new play is telling the truth about campus rape, and hoping to affect change in a dramatic way. Bowing as part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival, a summer-long celebration of the best of independent theatre in Los Angeles, The Interference, penned by Scottish playwright Lynda Radley, tells the story of Karen, a young athlete at an unnamed Big Ten school who values her studies almost as much as her friendships.
One night, though, Karen ties one on at a campus rager and a friend puts her to bed, as Karen is nearly unable to stand. Some time later, Karen awakes to find the school’s star football quarterback sexually assaulting her.
Through the course of the play — performed masterfully by student actors from Pepperdine University’s undergraduate theatre program — Karen pursues so-called avenues to justice, including reporting her rape to her school, filing a Title IX complaint, and sharing her story publicly with the help of an overworked investigative journalist.
But as the news spreads across campus and around the country, the campaign to discredit her escalates, forcing her to drop out of school and bringing her pursuit of justice to a standstill.
Directed by Cathy Thomas Grant and shown last week at Rogue Machine Theatre in Los Angeles, The Interference brings to stunning life a story we all know too well. Drawing from real-life, high-profile cases involving unconscious women and their athlete rapists — like those of Jameis Winston, the recent gang rape of two women at Baylor University, the Steubenville High School rape case, to name only a few — for a piece of fiction, the play feels incredibly real.
The audience cannot help but experience a visceral reaction to the material, the emotional response intensified by the heartbreaking performances delivered by the uniquely talented young actors. We feel like we know these kids — the survivors, the enablers, the friends, the apologists, the harassers — a familiarity that only grows deeper, perhaps counterintuitively, as the actors assume different characters through the course of the play.
This production’s symphonic soundscape of voices weighing in on Karen’s rape — media interjections, heated online exchanges, the “well, actuallys” of Joe Schmoes on the street — achieves a similar effect, creating a simultaneously confusing and clarifying cacophony.
However, it’s the play’s painfully accurate portrayal of the personal devastation and academic derailment experienced by survivors of sexual assault who refuse to be silenced, like Karen, that resonates. Its frank discussion of rape culture, misogyny, and football worship, as well the systemic barriers to justice for victims of rape — and the free passes given to men, particularly promising athletes, who rape — that will have you nodding in recognition and physically shaking with rage.
And don’t hold your breath for a Hollywood ending, either. Developed as a consciousness-raising tool for educators as part of Pepperdine’s student exchange program and written specifically with college-age performers and audiences in mind, The Interference‘s conclusion proves to be just another deeply disturbing chapter in Karen’s story — as is often the case for real-life survivors of sexual assault.
But hopefully, with plays like The Interference, which won a pair of awards at the 2016 Edinburgh Fringe Festival and may soon be touring universities, audiences will be more likely to call foul on campus rape.