‘Reunion’ a provocative look at rape, trauma

From early on in the SF Playhouse production of local playwright Kenn Rabin’s new play, “Reunion,” it’s clear the central character Tom is not the “sexually violent predator” he has been labeled by the system. He served his prison term, but is now incarcerated in a mental institution for psychiatric evaluation.

Tom believes there’s only one way for him to get out: if Valerie, the woman who, 10 years ago, accused him of raping her, recants. She was his high school drama student at the time, but he insists she seduced him.

Another former student, Julie, has promised Tom she’ll find Valerie and manipulate her into confessing the truth.

So, if Tom’s not an SVP, who and what is he exactly? Amoral? A trickster? A victim? A liar? A healer of sorts? Any passion is better than no passion at all, he proclaims at one point.

In this world premiere (part of SF Playhouse’s “Sandbox” series of new plays) directed by Louis Parnell, Tom reveals himself gradually through mandatory therapy sessions, monitored visits from Julie and a few flashbacks.

In a carefully layered portrayal of this flawed character, Marvin Greene is alternately charming, wise-cracking, desperate, enraged and anguished.

Rabin has structured the play with interspersed and overlapping scenes. On floor level, Tom’s therapist (an inexplicably and monotonously hostile Emily Rosenthal) conducts their sessions. On the small stage, Julie (a luminous, vulnerable Lauren English) struggles to establish trust with her old classmate Valerie (an overly artificial Alexandra Creighton). “We’re two sides of the same corpse,” says Valerie — a Freudian slip.

There’s a disjointed feeling at times as unneeded quasi-dream sequences mash up, awkwardly and even confusingly, against real-time scenes. Perhaps that’s because this was originally a PlayGround-commissioned 10-minute play and is having growing pains.

And an opening scene involving projected images is extraneous. So are snippets of “Henry IV, Part 1” and “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

But Rabin is full of surprises as he explores the lingering effects of Tom’s actions on both women, uncovering their painful secrets — and Tom’s as well — in dramatic and intriguing ways.

 This isn’t a deep, complex psychological probing of a child-adult affair, as was David Harrower’s 1995 drama “Blackbird.” But it’s a worthy and theatrically satisfying perspective on the topic, and on the many self-defeating ways that people deal with trauma.

Presented by SF Playhouse with PlayGround
Where: 533 Sutter St., S.F.
When: 7 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, closes June 30
Tickets: $20
Contact: (415) 677-9596, www.sfplayhouse.org

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