Derek R. Munson
Des Moines, IA—Sexual violence is a public health crisis that affects everyone, regardless of age, ethnicity, or gender identity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that sexual violence perpetrated by an intimate partner impacts over 35% of women in the United States. The trauma of intimate partner violence is catastrophic to survivors, and many women suffer lifelong mental and physical illnesses in addition to unwanted pregnancies. Sexual violence destroys lives and families, and yet it is often seen as someone else’s problem.
In Naomi Iizuka’s “Good Kids,” sexual violence is everyone’s problem.
Iizuka is one of the most prolific playwrights working today in America. She is the recipient of a Rockefeller Foundation grant and was recently commissioned by the John F. Kennedy Center to write a new play. She teaches at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
“Good Kids” is presented by the University of Missouri’s Department of Theatre at the 49th annual Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival. Inspired by a true story, the play is about a high school girl who blacks out one night at a party and is gang raped by a group of boys. The effects of the violent attack shatter the young woman’s life and tear apart an entire community.
The play was commissioned by the Big Ten Theatre Consortium through an initiative designed to foster female playwrights and create more roles for young women on the stage. On January 23, 2017, “Good Kids” made its KCACTF debut at the Kum & Go Theater in Des Moines, IA under the direction of Carrie Winship, a PhD candidate at the University of Missouri.
Winship has long appreciated Iizuka’s socially challenging and complex dramaturgy which include the systemic problems of sexual violence and excessive teenage drinking. “Good Kids” gave Winship the opportunity to bridge scholarship and theory with the challenges of a large-scale collaboration. She immersed herself in research, spending months traveling around the country and attending other college productions of the play.
Winship’s first challenge was assembling a creative team and deciding how the production should look. The team settled on a technically integrated, multi-media landscape that would not just lay over the top of the production, but function to fully support and engage with the storytelling. Through the concept of memory, designer Xiomara Cornejo projects the character’s thoughts and emotions onto a stark white set that looks like an artist’s blank canvas. Using highly stylized text, graphic imagery, and color she creates vivid life size, live action video murals.
The characters in “Good Kids” all have a different story to tell. On the night of the rape, most of the characters are drinking at a party, including the rape victim, Chloe, played by Cassandra Ferrick. Chloe ultimately blacks out and can’t remember anything about the assault. However, the entire event is caught on video and it soon ends up on social media. Almost instantaneously the video goes viral and the entire school knows what happened to Chloe.
The play interrogates the disruptions of memory and truth, who should bear responsibility for the assault, and how social media platforms are used to spread information. The polarizing effects of Chloe’s sexual assault becomes an ugly battle ground of he said/she said. Everything that happens the night of the rape is called into question, including attitudes about binge drinking, sexual expression, and an apathetic rape culture in America.
Winship states that “Good Kids” is “poetry in motion” and represents the Everyman (or Everywoman) concept for a twenty-first century audience. One of Iizuka’s greatest gifts as a playwright is that “her plays demand to be opened up by the ensemble.” She believes it is important for the actors to leave the work on the stage at the end of the night and step away from the play.
The issues of sexual assault and protecting American citizen from harm cannot be underestimated, not only as seen through the lens of the younger generation but for all Americans who care about the trajectory of the country.
The President of the United States is on record as bragging about violence toward women through unwanted sexual groping. On Election Day, almost half of America chose to look the other way and to ignore the president’s shameful statements about women. When half of the country chooses to ignore the glorification of sexual violence toward women, the importance of Naomi Iizuka’s “Good Kids” becomes even more relevant.
“Good Kids” plays at the Kum & Go Theatre, 22 SW 9th Street, Des Moines, IA. on January 23rd at 10:00 PM; January 24th at 10:00 AM & at 1:00 & 4:00 PM. Tickets may be reserved through Eventbrite on KCACTF.org. Kum & Go Theatre: 515-265-2535.
“Good Kids,” written by Naomi Iizuka, directed by Carrie Winship; Scenic Designer, Chris Oliver; Lighting Designer, David Schneider, Choreographer, Cat Gleason; Dramaturg, Melissa Jackson Burns; Stage Manager, Rachel Johnson; Projection Designer, Xiomara Cornejo; Costume Designer, Loren Howard; Movement Coordinator/Fight Director, Kate Busselle; Sound Design, Carrie Winship and members of the ensemble. Assistant Stage Manager, Alison Kertz; Production Engineer, Brad M. Carlson, Properties Assistant, Osareti Aghedo; Crew: Benjamin Speed, Luke Schrand, Hannah Aufranc, Jacob smith, Chelsey Harrell, Douglas Anderson.
Cast: Amber, Bridget Grojean; Daphne, Asher Alt; Madison, Shelby Kay Gronhoff; Brianna, Serena Stoddard; Kylie, Sara Nolan; Skyler, Phajja Redwood; Chloe, Cassandra Ferrick; Deidre, Sierra Ashton; Ty, Matthew McCombs; Landon, Andre Steward; Tanner, Cody Grasher; Connor, Charlie Durham.