The Boston College theatre department presented Back The Night this past weekend, an intense and riveting dive into the oftentimes dangerous lives of college women dealing with on-campus assaults and their aftermath.
The show, written by this year’s Monan Professor Melinda Lopez and directed by Pascale Florestal, a director, educator, and administrator based in Boston, dealt with these sensitive subjects in a manner that was emotional and honest, using storytelling as a way to ask the tough questions about how we can move toward a future that is safe for every person.
Back The Night was performed in the Bonn Studio in Robsham, giving the show an intimate atmosphere, as if each audience member was living inside the story. The set was simple and striking, with a massive chalkboard with classical columns drawn on it hanging in the background. Throughout the show, cast members would scribble words on the blackboard, sharing reactions and stories of assault.
The show centers on the relationship between two college students—Cassie (Devyn Itula, MCAS ’22) and Em (Marissa Caraballo, MCAS ’20)—who are forced to face a terrifying reality when Cassie is assaulted.
The show chronicles the aftermath of this event, as the gash on Cassie’s forehead prompts her to post poems and stories about her experience. The posts blow up online, and Cassie’s attack starts a larger conversation about sexual assault and the danger that every woman faces while living on campus.
Things become even more complicated, however, as Em and Cassie have to deal with internet trolls, school administration bureaucracy, and backlash from the frat brothers who Cassie accuses of assaulting her.
Back The Night becomes even more intense when the audience realizes that there are details in Cassie’s story that aren’t adding up. Em starts to question the credibility of her story and of those around her.
Beyond the intriguing plot and the superb acting, Back The Night raises difficult questions that are usually ignored when sexual assault and violence against women are discussed.
When Cassie decides to share her story so publicly, there is a tension that leaves the audience wondering whether Cassie is helping create long-lasting change for women, or if she’s just putting herself at risk of further emotional trauma.
Em and her boyfriend Brandon (Matt Dolly, MCAS ’21) stumble through their relationship after Cassie’s assault, and while Em demands that Brandon find out more information about the culprit, Brandon remarks that Cassie should have known better than to be walking alone late at night.
Finally, Cassie, Em, and their friend Sam (Jacob Cardona, MCAS ’22) help organize a march to raise awareness of violence against women on their college campus. Em’s boyfriend Brandon attends the march to improve his frat house’s reputation, as does her mother, a senator (Nicole Hayes, MCAS ’20), who Em believes is attending the march to aid her reelection campaign. The audience is forced to question whether true advocacy can be reconciled with self-interested motives.
Em struggles to accept her own past throughout the show and spirals as she continues to doubt her best friend’s honesty. Back The Night comes to a breaking point at the end of the show, when Cassie and Em have a heart-to-heart that leaves the facts ambiguous but heals the women’s friendship.
Back The Night is proof that stories about sexual violence are challenging, complex, and intense, but also that they need to be told. In exploring the struggles, pain, and even sometimes hopeful friendship that follows in the wake of something horrific, Back The Night exemplifies the importance of advocacy and support, all the while charging the audience to continue musing on this issue beyond the theater.
Featured Image by Susu Guo / For The Heights