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Paul Downs Colaizzo Is Really Excited

The talented playwright discusses the Signature Theatre production of his provocative new work, Really Really.

By Washington, DC
Paul Downs Colaizzo
(© Signature Theatre)
Paul Downs Colaizzo
(© Signature Theatre)
The goings-on at college campuses have provided the basis for numerous plays and movies, from such recent offerings as Unnatural Acts and Completeness to American Pie, but few fictional students have faced the dilemmas in Paul Downs Colaizzo's Really Really, which is premiering at Virginia's Signature Theatre on January 31, with a cast featuring Kim Rosen, Bethany Ann Lind, and Paul James (of TV's Greek).

This extraordinarily bracing work pivots on the aftermath of a particular rowdy college party, during which a possibly non-consensual sexual encounter occurs between rich guy Davis and the much poorer Leigh. But the issue of rape is not the primary one Colaizzo wished to explore.

"I wrote the first draft of the play in 2007 shortly after graduating from NYU where I studied to be an actor," says Colaizzo. "The famous Lacrosse team incident at Duke [where a bunch of players were falsely accused of rape] had recently happened was going through my mind. And an even bigger influence was the play Doubt, which had profoundly affected me." Indeed, while Colaizzo has decided in his mind whether a rape occurred -- and shared his opinion with the show's current cast -- audiences are left to wonder what really happened.

Still, Colaizzo's biggest inspiration was a book he had read. "It was called Generation Me, and the play is really about these young people who are motivated by their futures," he says. "They are resilient, and no matter how much they have been given by their parents, they really have to fight to make it. I think we are the generation that we were bred to be by people who gave us a trophy for everything we did. Yet, ultimately ended up in the wrong place and the wrong time."

He isn't letting his generation off the hook, either. "I've been rewriting constantly ever since the play got a reading at the Kennedy Center in 2009, and some of what you'll see reflects the Occupy Wall Street movement," he says. "I think it showed the world -- and ourselves -- how we deal with our problems. We stand together and bond over our dissatisfaction, but fail to offer any real solutions."

The play will be notable -- some might even say notorious -- for its raw language, with a few sections that could make David Mamet blush. "I think 20 people walked out during the first 10 minutes of the Kennedy Center reading, although back then, I think I used the 'C' word too many times," he says.

"I think the hardest thing I've had to learn is that just because people might speak a certain way in real life doesn't mean it's engaging in the theater. And while I want to represent my generation, I also want to respect all generations, and I am aware that older people are the primary ticket buyers. And your duty is to an audience, and making it effective for them. Otherwise, I would just write a book."

Colaizzo stresses that no one at Signature, including artistic director Eric Schaeffer and the show's director, Matthew Gardiner, has asked him to make changes to accommodate the audience. "What I most admire about Matthew, other than his collaborative nature, is that he's not afraid of the harsh realities I am trying to show. When Eric called me in 2010 to say Signature wanted to do this play he told me he thought everyone else was afraid of it. I know him doing this is a big leap of faith."


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