The Voice of a New Generation Echoes in NYC Premiere of Really Really
By Harry Haun
Twentysomething playwright Paul Downs Colaizzo makes his Off-Broadway writing debut with a play about a campus controversy. Acclaimed director David Cromer (Our Town, Tribes) steers the drama for MCC Theater.
Hazily comes the dawn — as well as the truth — in Really Really, Paul Downs Colaizzo's first play, which begins previews at the Lucille Lortel Theatre Jan. 31, a year to the day that it world-premiered to critical bravos at Arlington's Signature Theatre.
The author, all of 27, takes this coincidence as a good omen. Stars are starting to align, and the forecast is that lightning will strike twice — especially with director David Cromer at the controls, steering the play in for a smooth New York landing.
Cromer and Colaizzo both shy away from plot specifics. "I don't like talking about that because there's a huge plot revelation in the piece," says the latter. "I'm horrible at synopsizing anyway, which is why I was glad MCC did it themselves this time. I had to do it for Signature, and it took me five hours to come up with one sentence."
Suffice it to say, it focuses on the morning-after fallout of a campus kegger — how it impacts on the futures of a rugby team and a girl of a less-privileged background.
MCC Theater never said, "Gimme a young Neil LaBute," but they may have found just that in Colaizzo.
"It's really about Generation Me, the post-abortion generation — people post-1972," points out Colaizzo, who qualifies as a spokesman for that particular faction.
"We're the most wanted generation that there has ever been simply because our parents had the choice to have us or not. Anyone born post-1972 is being called Generation Me because we focus on ourselves. That, mixed with Mister Rogers' teaching 'you're special just for being you,' led to people who are narcissistic. We're the most entitled, yet the most miserable, generation in American history."
How this plays out into a piece of theatre with an amusing hot-and-cold-running dynamic is what drew Cromer into the project. "Oh, it goes in so many places," he says. "It's very funny, very strange, kinda relentless — then it heads into really horrible ambiguity of how people interpret a situation. After a while, it's difficult to tell what really happened. It's complicated, uncompromising, quite nasty. I like that. I am hoping audiences will feel the chaos you feel when you have only precarious bearings in the world — how thrilling and terrifying and awful that is all at once."
In 2007, when Colaizzo started writing the play, he knew two things: the comma-less title and the first line — the latter of which was actually a sound, "Ow." "That's all that I knew when I sat down to write it. I didn't know where it was going in the first draft."
At the time, he was a 21-year-old who had finished his class work at NYU a semester early and was spending the January-to-May before graduation as an actor on a TheatreWorks tour. The play, prophetically, was Great Expectations — and it premiered, prophetically again, at the Lortel, where he debuts as a NYC playwright.
"I'd never written a play before, and so, as we traveled with the show, while we were going state to state, I sat in the back of the van and wrote the first half of this play. When I returned, right before I graduated, I did a reading with a bunch of friends, and classmates listened to it. Then I put it away and concentrated on acting for a year-and-a-half more. I did an arc on 'As the World Turns,' and I was doing a stage production of High School Musical 2 in Atlanta when the stock market crashed.
"I decided then that I wanted to focus again on writing, and with a new economic climate — a post-2008 climate — I added another layer to Really Really: this idea of a severe uncertainty for anybody leaving school and entering the job market."
The panic over leaving college was one of the forces that formed Really Really in the first place. John Patrick Shanley's play Doubt and Jean Twenge's book "Generation Me" were also put into Colaizzo's creative blender, and out came the play.
Cromer and Colaizzo crossed paths about this time, both being Upper West Siders. "We didn't meet under professional circumstance," the director recalls. "He'd seen Our Town, and we talked about it one day. Then we kept running into each other and became friends. I didn't know he was an actor. I didn't know he was a writer.
"Then, Really Really got done and was very successful. It was neat — me not being aware of him and then having all this really exciting stuff happen to him. Everybody was going after the play, and he said, 'Well, I want you to do it.' That was really nice."
More than nice, it was smart. "I've seen David's New York work and never not felt something," admits Colaizzo. "I have visceral reactions. He strips all safeties away so the play is fully exposed. It makes me make sure every word is the word I want.
"I wrote this play when I was in a very rebellious place, and I wanted to make a piece of theatre for my generation. What I learned — especially since the Signature run — is that it speaks to other generations as well. I didn't imagine that it would."
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