‘Steve Got Raped’ — but will he be believed?

Dreamwell Theatre Presents: Steve Got Raped

Public Space One — Opens Friday, March 23

Diviin Huff as Katie; Gavin Conkling as Steve. — photo by Elisabeth Ross

“What do you do when you’re stuck in the gray area of consent, monogamy, and societal expectations?” the description of Steve Got Raped on the National New Play Network’s New Play Exchange website asks. A more timely question might be, “Does a gray area even exist?”

Dreamwell Theatre is opening Sam Gooley’s comedy on Friday, March 23. Steve Got Raped begins with engaged couple Steve and Katie facing an unexpected pregnancy and follows Steve as he attends his bachelor party, where he is raped by one of the strippers. The fallout of that — and the extent to which he is believed — form the crux of the play.

“[The title] states clearly: Steve got raped, and then we spend the whole play discussing whether or not Steve did get raped,” director Adeara Jean Maurice said in a chat. “To me this speaks to the fact that victims say they experienced sexual assault but then have to provide evidence that it did indeed happen. Them saying it is not enough. Which obviously is pretty messed up.”

Steve Got Raped premiered at the New York International Fringe Festival in 2016, but 2016 seems like a lifetime ago in the wake of the explosion of the Me Too movement and the inception of #TimesUp, two social tidal waves that may have fundamentally changed the way we talk about rape. The questions raised in Steve Got Raped feel almost prescient now, even as the reactions (and particularly the disbelief) seem almost antiquated. It will be fascinating to see how Dreamwell’s cast and production team interact with 2018 in their production.

“Dreamwell selected this script before the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements really took off, but I think their timing just demonstrates how close our society was to the boiling point,” Gavin Conkling, who plays Steve, said in a chat.

“While the focus of these movements is on women (which makes sense, since they are affected at higher rates), this show reminds us that it can happen to anyone,” Conkling continued. Conkling does believe there is room for men in Me Too and #TimesUp — the first by “voicing their own experiences of sexual harassment or assault” and the latter acknowledging power and learning not to abuse it — but he did offer a caveat. “In both movements,” he said, “I believe it is men’s job to call out such abuses when we see them and accept responsibility for our actions.”

Gavin Conkling as Steve; Heather Johnson as Ariel. — photo by Elisabeth Ross

“I hope to tell a perspective that is untold and highlight some of the language that victims have to deal with and what changes we can make to have a more supportive environment,” Maurice said of her goals for the show as director. “I also think the conversation needs to shift away from what victims can do to prevent rape and instead talk about consent and how we can break down stereotypes and stop rape culture from continuing.”

The cast of Steve Got Raped got some help in this area from Iowa City’s Rape Victim Advocacy Program (RVAP), which also partnered with Dreamwell in producing the show. RVAP ran a workshop with the cast and production team, in which, Maurice said, they discussed the show’s content and victim resources.

“I was comfortable talking about male rape before starting this show,” Conkling said, “but working on it has given me some new perspectives, thanks in no small part to RVAP.”

Maurice hopes that relationship will be reciprocal. “I want to bring awareness of resources like RVAP,” she said. “I’m interested in what discussion will happen during the talk back. I think this play is good to get us discussing but it’s doesn’t provide education. I think the play reflects the rape culture we live in.”

In addition to talk backs after each of the show’s four performances, Dreamwell will be providing counselors each night, in case audience members struggle with the issues raised.

“Steve doesn’t get a lot of support,” Maurice said. “He gets a lot of, ‘Are you sure?’ and ‘Did it really happen like that?’ I think to a victim it could be stressful to be viewing a situation that is not conductive to progressing beyond what has happened.”

“It’s incumbent upon all of us,” Conkling said, “to respond with support and compassion when someone confides to us that they have been raped or assaulted, regardless of their gender.”

Dreamwell presents Steve Got Raped Fridays and Saturdays through March 31 at Public Space One. Tickets are $10-13, and are available in advance or at the door.

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