Review: Z Space’s powerful ‘Ripped’ is scintillating and challenging

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Jared (Daniel Chung) and Lucy (Krystle Piamonte) piece together the events of the previous night in the Z Space production of “Ripped,” running through June 15th. (Lorenzo Fernandez-Kopec photo)

The opening seconds of “Ripped” are loaded with foreboding. The young woman who lies beneath the cool, white sheets rustles with uncomfortable agitation. This woman, who we learn is named Lucy, moves with a weighted heaviness as the eerie strains of music lightly texture the background.

You can see Lucy’s discomfort as she awakens a bit more, trying to piece together the events from just a few hours prior. That discomfort is heightened when compared to the cheery Jared, who arrives with some breakfast that will only agitate a hangover.

Of all the things that overtake her, the little piece of her favorite blue dress rests on the floor and causes her panic. It’s a critical piece of an unsettling puzzle.

The power of the Z Space world premiere production of “Ripped,” written with piercing detail by Rachel Bublitz and directed with razor sharp focus by Lisa Steindler is that the play takes black and white concepts and loads them with nuance. The belief of one thing is challenged immediately by a character’s action, and by the end of the plays 80 harrowing minutes, it’s extremely challenging to firm up any consistent opinion at all.

There are three wholly likable folks for whom the story is built around. There is Lucy, who is leaving behind her home in San Diego and its multitude of bars to come north to UC Berkeley. At her new college, plenty of adventure awaits – jaunts to some “City,” a park in that city loaded with buffalo and a beach where she, for some reason, needs a sweatshirt.

Lucy (a fantastic and committed turn from Krystle Piamonte) is not only leaving her home behind but leaving behind her very safe and unambitious boyfriend Bradley (a soft spoken Edwin Jacobs), who specializes in sharing warm alcohol. Before Lucy hits the road, she and Bradley engage in one of those young, awkward conversations where breakups are the endgame. You know the one – I need space, let’s take a break, you’re gonna find someone, I suck, no you don’t, yada, yada and some more yada. They love each other, and the break they will take will certainly come to an end. A return to the familiar embrace awaits.

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Lucy (Piamonte) and Bradley (Edwin Jacobs) transition into an awkward friendship. (Lorenzo Fernandez-Kopec photo)

It’s a great plan until Lucy, who is still grasping Berkeley’s vast terrain on a night walk, runs into the handsome Jared (a varied and strong portrayal by Daniel Chung). Jared is not terribly interested in the flighty Lucy, but she has two intentions – get to her place safely with an escort and maybe get him to her place. Ultimately, she begins to grow on him, even though Jared tends to keep a safe distance from her.

There are no signs that the two young folks are falling into any kind of love but doing what many young college coeds look to do – hook up and have some fun. It is fun that comes with liberation, the constraints of the hometown with the high school sweetheart lifted and new adventures which await on a college campus.

While there are some moments where the dialogue doesn’t feel wholly organic, the power of Bublitz’ remarkable play is how the cast explodes with uncanny, visceral precision. In this play, there are no villains despite the subject matter. They are young, they are charming, Bublitz creating characters that work against an archetype.

Each character reaches his or her crisis point with problematic confusion, none really grasping the consequences of their actions until it is too late.

Lucy is lovely and intelligent yet insanely naïve. She’s also dealing with trauma that may or not be contributing to potential confusion. Who held her arms down? Who came on to who? Does that even make a difference? What are you apologizing for? Was it rape? Was consent given?

Was it you?

These questions rest in the ether, with confounding decisions laid bare for all to see (even causing one woman in the audience to audibly gasp, saying “Wow” multiple times).

From this grand storytelling, gripping moments are created, greatly enhanced by some viciously thrilling tableaus from Steindler’s direction, unified with Colm McNally’s set and light design. The lighting specifically, which uses dagger like strobes to create breathtaking effects, pushes the story forward, a story that does not move in linear fashion.

Sara Huddleston’s soundscape utilizes a beautiful surrounding pulse and helps to create the crisis that each character is now dealing with. And there is a settled peace in knowing that the various intimate scenes were created in a safe environment for the performers with Maya Herbsman, who served as the Intimacy Director.

The title of the play holds literal and metaphoric meeting. Each of these characters has something ripped from them. Whether it’s a relationship, an opportunity, an education or even joyous innocence, sheer ignorance causes some brutal consequences, and no one comes out of it unscathed.

“Ripped” is a thrilling new work – a play that scintillates, mesmerizes and does not let the audience get comfortable with any single opinion. I felt my own opinion shift multiple times. A play like this will launch a hundred conversations. And hopefully, at the end of these conversations, a great knowledge that creates necessary safety will be the result.

It may be too late for Lucy, Jared and Bradley, but it doesn’t have to be for anyone else.

WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO

Z Space presents the world premiere of “Ripped”
Written by Rachel Bublitz
Directed by Lisa Steindler
Featuring Krystle Piamonte, Edwin Jacobs and Daniel Chung
The Word: A play that never lets you settle in with a preconceived opinion, challenging everything you believe about rape and consent.
Stars: 5 out of 5
Z Below
470 Florida Street, San Francisco, CA
Running time: 80 minutes, no intermission
Through June 15th
Tickets range from $15 – $30
For tickets, call (415) 626-0453 or visit www.zspace.org

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