BACK THE NIGHT (@ BPT through Feb. 28th) is Melinda Lopez’ deeply disturbing new play about violence against women… and about how easy it is (at least it is in her play) for women to lie to get what they want. The big lie in BACK THE NIGHT (as in the “Take Back the Night” movement) was inspired by the Rolling Stone article on campus rape which they were forced to retract when it was discovered that the woman had fabricated her story. Ben Franklin famously said that “half a truth is often a great lie.” The full truth is that one out of every two women has experienced some form of violence in her life.
The half truth/half lie issue in BACK THE NIGHT is distressing enough but Lopez’ presentation itself is even more problematic. Every male character in BACK THE NIGHT is a prince (except for 60 seconds with an inane college president). The main character’s gay best friend is true blue. Her best female friend has a boyfriend who sets out to find who attacked Cassie. He even grills his fraternity brothers, who raise thousands of dollars for charity, and prove to be above reproach. Even the campus cop is the soul of discretion, gingerly and gently interviewing Cassie after the (alleged) attack.
On the other hand, every female character (with the exception of sixty seconds with an ER doc) is either dishonest, disloyal or dissembling. Cassie’s best female friend betrays her by telling the boyfriend and the gay friend that she doubts what Cassie is claiming. An ambitious female dean is itching to use the attack as an excuse to get rid of their ineffectual president. Cassie’s best friend’s mother is running for the Senate and she sees an opportunity for national press coverage of her campaign. A march is planned and the press takes over the campus. Cassie herself gets so much attention, not to mention the thousands of followers she gets on her website, that she can write her own ticket job-wise.
The axiomatic conclusion in BACK THE NIGHT is that all men are good and all women schemers. I’m pretty sure Lopez doesn’t mean to suggest this but when you present example after example of something in a play, it takes on greater significance beyond the play. Perhaps there have been so many rewrites that this escaped notice. There must have been cuts, otherwise how do you explain the lesbian subtext which went nowhere…or the painful relationship between the Senate candidate and her daughter which pops up and never resolves. Developmental theater isn’t easy but Lopez’ play resonates like gangbusters when one of the best friends asks the other at the very end, “How can we live knowing these bad things happen for no reason?” Indeed, how?