A simple misunderstanding or unmistakably date rape? School play explores controversial subject at St. Paul's Schools

February 10, 1996|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,SUN STAFF

He wanted to comfort her, but he misunderstood.

She wanted a hug, but she got raped.

Such a plot may not be the typical stuff of high school plays, but serious, even controversial, topics are not atypical for student productions at the St. Paul's Schools in Brooklandville. "Hush," the current play about date rape, follows others about acquired immune deficiency syndrome, teen death and the Holocaust.

"Art moves people. For us to use this art form directly to reach people is not unusual," said Paul Tines, director of the Ward Center for the Arts, used by both St. Paul's School and St. Paul's School for Girls.

The play illustrates the serious social problems being addressed on pastoral campuses, both inside and outside the classroom. Other private schools also are tackling such issues. Just this week at Friends School in Baltimore, for example, students talked about homosexuality and poverty at the annual upper-school convocation.

"Maybe a private school is a little sheltered, but not that sheltered," said senior Laura Connelly, who plays the rape victim.

Portraying the horror of date rape and its aftermath does not strike the student actors as unusual. They, in fact, helped choose the play.

"When I read this script last spring, I knew we had to do it because it's such an important issue to me and most of my friends," Laura said.

"This is an issue we are going to have to deal with," she added, citing statistics that almost one-fourth of all college women are victims of rape or attempted rape.

Date rape "can happen to us, but [people think] we can't discuss this," said another cast member, Katie Coffey.

Obviously, the St. Paul's students who made up Thursday's audience didn't feel that way. During a 30-minute discussion following the intense drama, students freely hurled questions and accusations at the actors, who remained in character while sitting on the edge of the stage.

"Do you believe this line of crap you're spewing out?" one young man asked Rob, the rapist, played by senior Charlie Springer. Rob maintained that what happened was not rape but a misunderstanding for which he was sorry.

"If you were married and the same thing happened to your daughter, how would you feel?" asked another student.

"What were you thinking when you threw her up against the chest?" added a young woman.

Using flashbacks -- including a discreetly presented but haunting rape scene -- the play tells Kim's trauma, her friends' persistence in urging her to talk about it and get help, Rob's continuing denial and his parents' divergent reactions.

And it is not presented just to be watched and walked away from. It is, in fact, preceded by a 10-minute documentary on college women talking about their own date rapes, and completed with the discussion session.

Breaking up the scenes was a multimedia presentation of television snippets on relationships and slides of contemporary ads for liquor, cosmetics and clothing -- all combining to show how teen-agers are inundated with sexual and sensual images.

"I hope some of our parents feel uncomfortable," said Mr. Tines, who has been at St. Paul's almost four years. "A good piece of theater will elicit all sorts of response."

He added, "The kids come out in droves because we do good, and we speak to them. I always tell the kids, 'If we touch one person -- one student or one parent -- then you have done your job.' "

"Hush," by Laura J. Gagliano, will be presented at 7:30 tonight at the Ward Center for the Arts on the St. Paul's campus.

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