"Good Kids" Dramatizes The Steubenville, Ohio Rape Case At Penn State

Nov 13, 2015

“Good Kids” opens on a group of high schoolers talking about last night’s party.

The kids all say they know the story behind the pictures and videos that are being passed around of football players with a girl from the party. In the photos, the girl is passed out and naked. The boys have also tweeted things like, “It’s not rape if they don’t say no.” The play is basically the story of what happened in Steubenville, Ohio in 2012.

“Good Kids” director Holly Thuma is an assistant professor of voice and speech in the school of theatre at Penn State. She says she remembers hearing about the intoxicated 16-year-old girl who was assaulted by high school football players and the pictures and videos they took.

“And the question was, and I remember at the time when the story broke, ‘How could this have happened?” said Thuma. “Where were their parents? Where were their teachers? How could this have happened? These are good kids. How could it have happened?’”

The play looks at how these “Good Kids” could have done something like this, the ambiguity of what exactly happened, and the role of social media. The script was commissioned as part of the Big Ten Theatre Consortium’s New Play Initiative.

“The goal of the new play initiative is to give opportunities to young up-and-coming woman playwrights and provide more roles for college age women in theater departments,” said Thuma.

In her play, Naomi Iizuka tries to make sense of what happened, not just that night, but what about these people and this place allowed this to happen. She uses a narrator to set the scene for the audience. Jerrie Johnson plays “Deirdre,” the narrator. In one scene she describes the town where these kids live.

“This town where we’re from, it’s that town off the highway that you see on your way to somewhere else,” said Johnson. “It’s the factory that went under or the one that’s about to. It’s neon lights and empty parking lots and not a whole hell of a lot to look forward to.”

Except… football.

In the play, the football players are revered and untouchable.

And the parents are victim blamers.

Bianca Sanchez plays a high school girl named “Madison.” She talks about a scene where she speaks as Madison’s mother.

“Even saying the words, it hurts me. But her opinion about the whole situation is kind of like ‘It was her fault.’ You know, the way she dressed or she was too drunk, you know. ‘She brought it on herself,’” said Sanchez. “It’s a really great scene to show how the children reflect the parents.”

Johnson says the themes of the play and some of the language might be mature, but that doesn’t mean parents shouldn’t bring their kids and talk with them about these issues. It’s something she says the parents in the play probably didn’t do.

“You hear their parents and you know that this conversation was not happening at home. They didn’t get this,” said Johnson. “And some of them really don’t know what it was that they did wrong. I’m not saying it wasn’t a wrong deed to do.”

Thuma says universities like Penn State are working to address sexual assault and this is another venue to talk about the problem.

The theatre department had just chosen “Good Kids” for this season’s lineup when allegations surfaced that Penn State’s Kappa Delta Rho fraternity had a secret Facebook page with pictures of nude or partially-nude women who appeared to be passed out. The irony of the similarities didn't escape Thuma.

“Kind of timely, unfortunately,” said Thuma. “But I don’t think it’s unique here. And I don’t think its anything new. What is new is people are talking about it and perhaps not as accepting of it as it used to be, which is a very good thing I think.”

To keep the conversation going after the play ends, Penn State’s Commission for Women's Personal Safety and the Sexual Assault Awareness committee are hosting panel discussions after all performances except the matinee.

“Good Kids” runs Nov. 16 through Dec. 5 in Penn State’s Pavillion Theatre.