Dallas — The new musical Broken, now in its world premiere at Gilley’s Dallas, wants to bring attention to the crime of rape. It seems right to start with some statistics that are hard to read…and even harder to survive:
- A woman’s chance of being raped in the U.S. during her lifetime: 1 in 5.
- American women are the victims of nearly 300,000 rapes each year—55 percent of them never reported, according to the Department of Justice. That’s one of the lower numbers around: the Centers for Disease Control estimates well over one million U.S. rapes each year.
- Fully 97 percent of rapists don’t go to jail for the crime.
- Rape victims don’t just “get over it”: they experience a much higher rate of depression, suicidal thoughts, and drug/alcohol abuse.
- Men are raped too. About 3 percent of American men are victims, with LGBT men (and women) in prison at much higher risk.
- Most rapists do it again and again; early convictions could prevent thousands of future crimes. Yet major Texas cities in recent years reported thousands of untested rape kits (as many as 10,000 in Dallas and 15,000 in Houston) that could be used to find DNA matches in the criminal justice system.
- Nearly 40 percent of rapists are part of the victim’s circle of family, friends and acquaintances. If you count in people the victim may have seen or met briefly, two-thirds of rapists are “someone she knows.”
- Too many lawmakers still use the term “forcible rape”—though some recently written laws and regulations have dropped it. That scenario—of the armed rapist and the severely bruised or battered victim—accounts for only 14 percent of rapes.
- College students in one survey thought 50 percent of rape claims were false. Most studies say 2-8 percent is closer to reality. Can women’s bodies “shut down” during a rape and avoid pregnancy? No. One study says it’s twice as likely a woman will become pregnant from a rape as from consensual sex.
- The United States ranks 13th in the world in the number of women raped every year.
Rape is a crime we need to know more and do more about: first, by helping and supporting victims, and then by making sure “the system” hears them, treats them well, and tries harder to find the predators among us.
But sadly, none of that makes Broken a very satisfying piece of professional theater. Despite all the good will in the world, and a considerable collection of talent, this issue-driven production comes off as a well-intentioned After School Special—more than a little simplistic, and entirely predictable from beginning to end.
Book and lyrics are by the show’s producer Monica Martino, Chief Technology Officer for Dallas-based Accudata Technologies, and the holder of some 16 telecommunications patents. This is Martino’s first foray into writing for theater (she’s been working on it for about 18 months) and her ideas are both passionate and sound—but she might have been wiser to hire a playwright who could have brought her thoughts to the stage with greater artistic impact. As it is, awkward patches of dialogue and flat-footed lyrics tend to distract, and keep the audience from engaging more deeply in the action.
Composer/conductor Aaron Fryklund provides the music. There’s an intermittent lyricism to what he does, but clunky lyrics overshadow the effort—and his small-but-fine orchestra frequently drowns out the sung or spoken dialogue. (If your show is a walking, talking, singing Public Service Announcement, at least the audience should be able to hear it.) The show is staged on three platforms set in a wide arc, and while some transitions from scene to scene feel slow, director Peg Waldschmidt generally keeps the performers moving briskly, sending them out into the aisles for a number of short scenes, or for dance numbers choreographed well by Paula Morelan.
The story line follows a young woman, Mona (Molly Pope) who goes out one night with her best friend Helen (Kimberly Pine), and lets Dirk (Stuart Neef), a guy we already know is bad news, walk her home. He talks his way into her apartment and rapes her. Mona does what’s right: she goes to the hospital, reports the rape, and confronts the rapist in court. But she’s moving within a system that doesn’t seem to be on her side: the medical types are cold, the police indifferent, and even her lawyer seems sure it’s a waste of time to try the case.
And from there on in, everything goes about as we expect: the court sets Dirk free, and Mona is bitter and afraid. But in Act Two, life goes on, demons are confronted, and Mona begins to heal—with support from her friends, the interest of a good guy named Jason (Jonathan Hardin), and advice from a caring psychiatrist (Ragan Pharris).
No surprises to the plot—but on the plus side, there are any number of good actors and fine voices on display. Pope as Mona sings her role well, and connects with us at crucial moments: on hands and knees as she crawls toward help, she’s incredibly raw and touching—but at more than a few moments, there’s a sense that Mona is a too-predictable “stock” character; perhaps that’s the fault of the script. Hardin as Jason has a beautiful clear voice that draws us in emotionally—and his performance feels unforced and very real. Brigitte Goldman plays gun-toting police officer Carla; she’s a standout among a strong group of ensemble singers, and shines in her one solo, the title number “Broken.”
As Mona’s BFF Helen, Pine does a good job of making us feel the pain of the people around the victims. Neef as the rapist Dirk is a foul-mouthed, bad-dude cartoon—but that’s how the role is written, and it’s certainly how some men are. And among the circle of friends, Walter Lee’s Troy and Ian Patrick Stack’s Steven both have a light, warm touch to their acting that’s most welcome. Still, the actors are hampered by dialogue that’s stiff or too generic, and with slang that sometimes seems from another era: “What a dream!” says Mona about a cute guy across the room.
The subject of rape has never been as “taboo” onstage as we might think: rape figures in the plot of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus and many other classics; it’s at the center of modern works such as Lynn Nottage’s wonderful, searing Ruined, Sarah Kane’s Blasted and Ariel Dorfman’s Death and the Maiden. And it’s not unknown in musicals: rape is part of the plot of West Side Story, Man of La Mancha, even the recent Fela!
But a play doesn’t have to be a masterpiece to do some good in the world. It’s not against the law to separate the artistic quality of a piece from what it can accomplish as a message—and Broken is one of those pieces. Despite its shortcomings, here’s hoping it finds audiences who need to hear what it has to say.
» Read about Monica Martino and the making of Broken here
» Below is a short list of some local sources of help and information:
Dallas Area Rape Crisis Center
24-hour hotline: 972-641-RAPE (7273)
The Women’s Center (Tarrant County)
24-hour hotline: 817-927-2737
National Sexual Assault Hotline