Paul Downs Colaizzo's Really Really, now playing at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, begins with laughter. Two girls stumble home after a party, both in tiny miniskirts and stripper heels, one of them bleeding from the wrist. It was an accident involving broken glass, the aforementioned shoes, and some leftover pizza. Grace (Lauren Cullpepper), the bloody one, laughs the hardest. Her friend and roommate Leigh (Zosia Mamet) stumbles around the dark apartment and checks her (empty) voicemail before putting on a sweatshirt and curling up on the sofa.
Fans of Mamet's work on the HBO series Girls might begin to shift nervously in their seats at this point. Is Really Really yet another entry into the canon of 20-somethings at sea? Are we about to watch Girls: The College Years? Those fears, thankfully, are short-lived, thanks in large part to the action that follows, and to the sharp, ambitious performances of the two lead actresses.
Really Really tracks the events of one wild party and its massive repercussions for one group of friends, split neatly in the play by gender. On the boys' side, there are Cooper (David Hull), a pumped-up loudmouth; Jimmy (Evan Jonigkeit), Leigh's possessive boyfriend and the son of the Dean; Johnson (Kobi Libii), studious and square; and Davis (Matt Lauria), handsome, dim, and according to his friends, good. The boys all play together on a team for a sport we learn, in the last scene, is rugby, but it might as well be maleness itself, a team organized by friendship and allegiance.
It is the idea of allegiance that gets to the heart of the play. Leigh accuses Davis of rape, and the characters aren't sure what to make of it. Leigh, the only underprivileged member of this squad, has had a hard life (she has the scars to show for it), and Davis is a Charlie Brown type, if Charlie Brown had abdominal muscles on which one could scrub their clothes. The situation is further complicated by the fact that Leigh has told Jimmy that she was pregnant with their child.
Who is telling the truth? Who is at fault? Colaizzo isn't interested in easy answers. Really Really is adept at shifting the balance, and does so repeatedly. Once the audience feels sure that they understand the moral landscape, it changes again, settling into an uneasy and complicated shade of gray. David Cromer's direction is nicely physical, and the actors are often in motion, their bodies belying their nervous energy. We see both Leigh and Davis transform from generic college types into nuanced and terrifying creatures.
The strongest work in the play comes from Culpepper. Grace's scenes at the Future Leaders of America conference inject a dose of humor into the proceedings, and her delightfully high-strung character is as taut as a rubber band. She speaks plainly about the theme of the play, the "Me Generation's" selfishness and raw desire, and how these striving, ugly impulses act as claw-marks on the ladder to success. We see each of the characters' desires plainly. These are the children of CFOs and professionals, the play warns. This is what your future leaders look like -- anxious and grasping, willing to do whatever they need to in order to survive.
The MCC Theater production is on Christopher Street, a stone's throw from New York University, and it is hard to resist imagining these unhappy young people frolicking a few blocks away, their hopes and wishes blinking as brightly as traffic lights. Impromptu games of Frisbee may never look carefree again.