A girl leaves a party with a group of boys, drunk to the point of vomiting and passing out.
At the home of one of them, she is sexually assaulted and the rape captured on camera; the next morning she wakes up confused and distressed with no memory of what transpired.
This real-life assault lies at the heart of Eleanor Bishop’s powerful new play Jane Doe, a complex and richly layered exploration of rape culture and the influences media has on nurturing it. The experimental, multimedia play opens with a powerful monologue that sets the chilling tone for the intensity of the subject matter to follow.
However, it then transitions into a disarmingly funny recollection of teenage
experimentation with digs at Hollywood romances. Polar opposite scenes show Bishop’s extraordinary talent, the script segueing seamlessly between drastic shifts in tone that underscore the connections she seeks to explore.
It is a collection of different elements, combining scripted speeches with recorded interviews discussing rape culture, acted out with poignancy and hilarity by sole performer Karin McCracken.
A lawyer and sexual assault prevention educator by day, McCracken is the third actress to take on this role and proves a natural talent right from the opening scenes.
She is joined onstage thrice by members of the audience for the interactive side of Jane Doe, a public reading of the court transcripts for the trial around the aforementioned attack. An ingenious idea but, unfortunately, also the weakest part of the play.
While the transcript itself paints a horrific picture of the justice system, some of that tension is lost in the awkward gathering and shepherding of audience members. The three-part trial lacked the dramatic impact of the brilliant, similarly-toned second act of Bishop’s previous work, Boys.
Involving McCracken more would have greatly improved the scenes: other parts of the play show she is capable of embodying different characters with ease and her legal experience would have added nuance to the proceedings.
But it is a minor matter in an otherwise flawless and powerful production. Low-key, intimate, with a thought-provoking script and a talented lead, Jane Doe is insightful, powerful and must not be missed.
Article first published at nzherald.co.nz