While the Wesleyan arts scene is no stranger to feminist works that creatively tackle contemporary issues of women’s rights and the patriarchy, “Blow,” which premieres this weekend in the Allbritton Penthouse, is set to kick things up a notch with its unique take on a tale of sexual assault. Written by Raechel Rosen ’15 and directed by Alexandra Stovicek ’17, the play aims to confront societal discourse on sexual assault by flipping the genders, and the power dynamic, upside down.
The script for “Blow” originated as an assignment of Rosen’s in a playwriting class last semester. Because she originally went into the class with the intention of working on an opera, which she is setting up next spring, Rosen did not initially expect to make it very far with her new script.
“I really wasn’t expecting to take playwriting seriously,” she said. “It came out of me real quick, like a little baby, ’cause it was kind of inside me for a while.”
After finishing it, she decided to submit it to Any Stage, Second Stage’s platform for play development that aims, along with other goals such as workshopping, to assist playwrights who do not seek to pursue full-length productions. In search of a director, Rosen reached out to a friend familiar with the feminist theater scene on campus, who then recommended Stovicek.
“I read it, and after talking to her for 30 minutes I was sold, and within the next week we had a team,” Stovicek said.
“Blow” follows a group of girls and one boy at a sleepover smoking weed, taking whiskey shots, and listening to Beyoncé. As they become more “crossfaded,” the fun atmosphere descends to become sexually charged and hostile toward the boy.
The play has attracted attention for its somewhat comic take on an extremely difficult issue. Rosen explained that the point of “Blow” is to mix the comedic and silly with the uncomfortable and disturbing.
“It’s definitely a tragic comedy,” Rosen said. “We’re looking at sexual assault through the lens of 15-year-old little privileged girls, so we’re taking a real sexual assault that happened, guy on girl, and flipping it around. There are a lot of jokes playing on how guys talk about girls sexually versus the way that girls talk about guys.”
Stovicek added that much in the script purposefully defies gender expectations.
“The first act feels like 15-year-old ‘Grease’ to me, if [it] was in Manhattan in this generation,” Stovicek said. “Some of the lines are intentionally more masculine, [which] in that context seem more silly and out of character.”
While “Blow” aims to address general and, to a fair degree, universal issues of sexual assault discourse, it focuses particularly on the culture of upper-class Manhattan prep school life and the stark contrast between the maturity of males and females. Both Rosen and Stovicek said they have a personal connection to, and numerous issues with, this environment, since they both attended similar prep schools.
“This play is about the boys I’d hang out with from my old school when I switched to public school,” Rosen said.
Both writer and director said they were sure to approach their subject with care, paying close attention to the value and effect of the play’s gender-swapping mechanism.
“I didn’t have hesitancy with reverse gendering because I think it’s really important to show how that illuminates gender and sexual assault in a new way,” Stovicek said. “We’re showing a new side of it that is still relevant and realistic based on the female perspective.”
Swapping genders allows Rosen and Stovicek to reveal cultural absurdities.
“This is absolutely not about male sexual assault [nor] how it happens,” Rosen said. “This assault of girls on a boy is so unrealistic in its current form because we’re exploring the power dynamics that don’t really exist. Not only does it show how ridiculous some of the things guys say about girls [are], but it really shows the huge power difference between guys and girls in these situations.”
For these reasons, both Rosen and Stovicek said that the show is meant to be more of a catalyst for dialogue than a standard play. Therefore, they will host and facilitate a talkback session following each performance in order to stir up productive conversations with the audience, ensuring that people don’t leave the show without the opportunity to discuss and work through their own opinions.
“It’s more of a feminist performance art piece than a theater piece,” Rosen said.
Running Thursday, Oct. 23 through Saturday, Oct. 25 in the top floor of Allbritton, “Blow” is expected to inject even more life and dialogue into the campus’ arts and feminist scenes.
“Even if you don’t consider yourself a feminist, or the word feminist makes you extraordinarily uncomfortable, I really hope you come out to this,” Rosen said. “The experience depends on people of all different backgrounds.”