The scariest thing about the plot of "Extremities" is realizing how not just a person's life, but a person's very psyche, can change in an instant.
William Mastrosimone's drama, onstage in a solid production by Greater Orlando Actors Theatre, shows what happens when a young woman is attacked by a rapist — but then turns the tables on him.
There's food for thought in the nature of vengeance, justice and the fragility of our sense of security. But Mastrosimone also crafted his 1982 play, later adapted as a movie starring Farrah Fawcett, as a straight-up thriller.
Director Paul Castaneda does well with the thrilling aspects. From the moment an awkward stranger (Stephen Lima) unexpectedly bursts into Marjorie's home, it's clear she's in very real trouble. And the tension only increases when Lima, seemingly about to leave, stops and deliberately pushes the door shut — then locks it.
The horror of the situation is heightened by his attack on Marjorie (Jennifer Bonner). It's not a flamboyantly theatrical assault (Bill Warriner serves as the show's fight choreographer). Instead, it's the banal believability of it that's so sickening — not only Lima's groping of Bonner, but the degrading words he spews at her.
While the audience might feel afraid, that key emotion doesn't always resonate in the faces of the people onstage. Lima keeps up an impressively slimy cockiness during his imprisonment, still patronizing with "honey" and "sweetheart" when he's not cursing in filthy terms — but flashes of fear for his future are too few and far between.
Bonner gives a fierce performance, and her terror is written all over her face during the initial attack. But it's difficult to see any glimpses of worry or doubt over what she has done when she becomes the stone-hearted abuser. That could be in part because some of her key moments occur with her back to the audience.
As Marjorie's housemate Terry, Cara Fullam has an odd habit of smiling during tense moments but is roused to admirable fury at the morally complex situation. Caitlin Bowden Carney, as dependable housemate Patty, is so calm at first, it's disconcerting. But she subtly and necessarily lessens the tension with her talk-show psychology. "How does that make you feel?" she murmurs as Marjorie hovers between hysteria and madness.
Set designer Sawyer Stroud has created a sturdy-looking farmhouse for the action, and it needs to be sturdy. On opening night, Bonner broke a hammer with her furious blows to the fireplace in which she traps her prisoner.
Watching the vicious attacks and the characters' emotional unraveling is heavy going. And though it may seem like crime victims would find the setup cause for rejoicing, there's no happiness to be found in the fates of these poor broken people.
• What: A dramatic thriller by William Mastrosimone
• Length: 1:50, including intermission
• Where: Greater Orlando Actors Theatre, 2431 Aloma Ave., Winter Park
• When: 8 p.m. Fridays-Sundays, through Jan. 26
• Tickets: $18, $15 students and seniors
• Call: 407-872-8451
• Online: goatgroup.orgCopyright © 2015, CT Now