[Trigger warning: sexual abuse, rape]
by Rebecca Halat
The Illusion Theater’s production of Lee Blessing’s For the Loyal explores truth, consequences, and obligations. The narrative is based on the real-life events of the Penn State-Jerry Sandusky child rape scandal, but avoids falling into the trap of simply re-telling that narrative. The play begins by exploring the role of loyalty in an organization that places high importance on hierarchy.
The story then does well to move beyond this initial set up, and reflect on the restrictions and considerations promoted by loyalty to an institution by including a relative outsider to the program in the action. After the initial introduction, the perspective shifts to that of the pregnant wife of the graduate student who discovered the coach with a young boy. Her reaction and concern over how to proceed drives the narrative, and the audience watches as she explores the various options available to her. This shift allows the audience to see the play not just as a rehashing of the Sandusky case, but rather as an examination of the broader themes related victims and perpetrators, the obligations and priorities of adults, and, most interestingly, the meaning of guilt.
Anna Sundberg was exemplary as Mia, the wife of the graduate student, who sets the narrative for the entire play. So many stories, both fictional and non-fictional, are purportedly about women but are told by men. It was incredibly refreshing to have a story about men, set in the hyper-masculine world of football, told by a female character. As both an outsider to the football program and an outsider to the male sex, Mia’s character highlights the problems with loyalty and the patriarchal structure of hierarchy that allows for victims to be ignored because of supposedly loftier goals.
Another impressive performance is from Michael Fell who shows promising range through his take on various characters all falling under the descriptor of “Boy.” Fell’s performance shows us that victims like those in the Sandusky case, and by extension any victim of sexual abuse, have a wide range of motivations and reactions. His character provides an important perspective in victim’s advocacy, showing that people who have faced sexual assault need to be treated as individuals, and not as faceless victims forever shattered by their experiences.
Finally I would like to point out Garry Geiken’s performance, who to my mind had the most difficult role of playing Coach Carlson, the coach found to have sexually abused young boys through his position on the football team and his youth-oriented charity. Geiken was able to put himself in the mind of a predator, but also managed to appear like an average man, rather than as a creepy predator. This distinction is important, since anyone who is able to get away with this type of predatory behavior for any significant amount of time would not generally come across as perverted or predatory. The balance that Geiken found was remarkable, in that his ability to play a predator was as believable as his ability to not be seen as such.
Though-provoking, and yet certainly not what I expected, I strongly recommend this production. It provides insight into why our society is so inclined to react with such horror at allegations of child abuse all while too often these allegations, even when seriously provable, are brushed under the rug.
Tickets for For the Loyal are $20-$35. Group discounts are available for groups of 10 or more people. Tickets are available at the Illusion Theater Box Office at 612-339-4944 or online at http://www.illusiontheater.org. The show runs from April 23 – May 16.