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Entertainment & Arts

Review: At the Rubicon Theatre, a family comes to terms with a sexual assault 20 years ago

A college student (Sydney Berk, center) unearths shattering truths about her biological parents (Melanie Cruz and Michael Polak) in “Never Not Once” at the Rubicon.
A college student (Sydney Berk, center) unearths shattering truths about her biological parents (Melanie Cruz and Michael Polak) in “Never Not Once” at the Rubicon.
(Jeanne Tanner)

Conflicting accounts of a drunken frat party and sexual assault detonate 20 years later in “Never Not Once,” a visceral drama at the Rubicon Theatre in Ventura.

Carey Crim’s prescient and provocative play, written in 2017 before the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, explores the psychological, domestic and professional consequences of a rape that surfaces decades after it happened.

That long-buried trauma threatens the present-day happiness and stability of an interracial lesbian couple, Allison (Melanie Cruz) and Nadine (Diahnna Nicole Baxter), who have successfully navigated parenting challenges in raising Allison’s 20-year-old daughter, Eleanor (Sydney Berk).

Allison has always been evasive about the circumstances that led to Eleanor’s birth, attributing her one and only heterosexual encounter to a drunken one-night stand back in her college days.

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Allison’s claim that she never even caught the boy’s name doesn’t sit well with Eleanor, who declares her mission to track down her birth father so she can “meet the other half of my genetic code.”

South Coast Repertory’s festival has world-premiere readings from Christie Baugher, Anchuli Felicia King, Shayan Lotfi, Tony Meneses and Erika Sheffer.

The most promising candidate turns out to be Doug (Michael Polak), a financial analyst who used to drink heavily but who has gone sober. Superficial premise similarities notwithstanding, this is no tidy Hollywood gene-com à la “The Kids Are All Right.”

After initial denials by Doug and Allison, their troubling history emerges in painful revelations. Unearthing that history entails some extensive and at times laborious exposition, but adept staging by Katharine Farmer builds momentum to riveting intensity.

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For an issue-oriented play, these characters and their story lines are rendered for the most part with believable humanity and specificity. As the caring and committed Allison and Nadine, Cruz and Baxter illuminate the realistic limits and conflicts inevitable in any relationship — particularly when it comes to concealed truths. Their back stories about hard-won social acceptance add further dramatic weight.

Cruz’s haunted Allison offers poignant insight into the reasons why someone would keep silent about a sexual assault. For Eleanor, the discovery of her origins has an equally devastating impact on her self-worth; one of the play’s best aspects is the shifted focus from rape survivor to collaterally damaged offspring. Eleanor’s boyfriend (Isaac Cruz) provides a sympathetic male perspective and woke moral outrage, though he has little else to do in an underwritten role.

While Polak brings commendable depth and vulnerability to Doug’s struggle with his past, this is not an abstract meditation on he said/she said ambiguity. His culpability is never really in doubt. The question is what to do about it 20 years after the fact.






'Never Not Once'
Where: Rubicon Theatre, 1006 E. Main St., Ventura

When: 2 and 7 p.m. Wednesdays, 7 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sunday; through Feb. 23

Tickets: $29-$64

Info: (805) 667-2900 or www.rubicontheatre.org

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

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