The Carleton Players have responded to the current conversation about sexual assault both on campus and at a societal level with a timely performance of Good Kids, a play by Naomi Iizuka based on the Steubenville, Ohio rape case of 2012. Performed sixth and seventh weekends under the direction of Taous Claire Khazem, a guest director who primarily works in the Twin Cities, the show depicts what happens when Chloe, a high school girl, is raped at a party by a group of fellow students who document the assault on social media.
The Carleton cast delivered intense, powerful performances. Derin Arduman ’19 did an excellent job portraying the depths of Chloe’s anger and desperation as she begins to piece together what happened to her that night. Other deeply emotional performances included that of Grace Betz ’20 as Skyler, a friend who tries to intervene as she watches the assault unfold on social media, and Jenan Jacobson ’18 as Deirdre, the perceptive narrator who takes a personal interest in Chloe’s story. The other actors all helped paint a picture of the destructive culture that allowed Chloe’s assault to occur.
The familiar sounds of technology, from phones beeping and buzzing to photos being snapped, played a prominent role in the play’s emotional power. They permeated the entire performance, recalling the constant presence of social media in our lives. A soundtrack of danceable pop music incorporated songs with lyrics evoking sexual assault and the messages received by women that normalize sexual assault and harassment.
The dramatic use of lighting set the stage for a number of especially memorable scenes. In one, a single spotlight reveals three male characters live-tweeting photographs of themselves as they assault Chloe. Light and sound worked together to create the play’s most powerful scene, in which Chloe sits trembling in a spotlight as the audio recording taken during her assault plays in the background.
One of the strongest aspects of the script of Good Kids is its unusual portrayal of time, making frequent use of flashbacks, flash-forwards, and resets to slowly reveal what happened to Chloe. The cast handled this well overall, with only a couple of transitions feeling a bit too abrupt. The actors also did a good job bringing to life the script’s portrayal of complicity, on the part of friends who do nothing to intervene and parents who silence Chloe in order to protect their children’s futures.
Despite these powerful aspects of Good Kids, the performance was limited by the script itself, which too often fell into stereotypes and failed to decisively focus on Chloe as a survivor. Almost all of the characters are two-dimensional, fitting neatly into stereotypical high school roles such as the “jock,” the “queen bee,” and the “weirdo.” Carleton’s interpretation largely played into the black-and-white nature of the script, with each character’s clothing and demeanor fitting squarely into conventional expectations. This flat portrayal of high school culture felt somewhat out of place, especially for a college performance.
The two-dimensional portrayal of Chloe was especially concerning. The script of “Good Kids” barely develops her character beyond the fact that she likes to drink, and that other girls consider her promiscuous and her clothing too revealing. Although some parts of the play seem to recognize the problem of victim-blaming, and the reminder that assault could happen to anyone is repeated throughout, this is contradicted by the heavy focus on Chloe’s clothing and level of intoxication, giving the sense that this really couldn’t have happened to any of the other female characters. In the face of these shortcomings in the script, the Players did their best to develop their characters with the material they had, and portrayed them with authenticity and emotion.
A final shortcoming of the script was that in portraying the rumors, confusion, and different characters’ memories regarding the events of the party, Good Kids puts misplaced focus on the fact that the full truth of what happened will never be known. While it is important to acknowledge how these circulating rumors and narratives defined Chloe’s experience after the assault, “Good Kids” would have benefitted from a more survivor-centric approach. The ending of the play failed to definitively validate Chloe, and the attackers’ consequences were never depicted. The result was that “Good Kids” failed to offer as decisive a condemnation of sexual assault as it should have for a play based on true events.
The cast and crew were clearly aware of these issues and worked to create a dialogue about where the play succeeded and where it fell short. Upon leaving the theater, audience members encounter a white board where they could leave Post-It notes with comments responding to various aspects of the show. One category asks attendees what should be changed about Good Kids, while others give them the chance to write a message to Chloe or state their thoughts on what has to happen for us as a society to prevent sexual assault. Comments from the cast and crew were already hung on the board to start the conversation. The whiteboard successfully created a space where cast, crew, and audience members congregated after the performance to discuss the show. The Players also tied the performance back to Carleton by including in each playbill a handout with information about sexual assault and misconduct support services on campus.
While the script of Good Kids is imperfect, Carleton students delivered a strong interpretation of the play, offering a fearless look at what allows sexual assault to happen and how social media plays a role in this dynamic. The Players’ performance of “Good Kids” gave an emotional, powerful glimpse into the reality of rape, and opened the door for continuing the necessary conversation about sexual assault on campus and beyond.