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What 'Actually' is sexual assault? A provocative new play explores the question of consent

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Anna Ziegler's play "Actually" delves deeply into the murky territory that often surrounds the he-said, she-said accounts of a reported sexual assault.

The new play "Actually" seeks to address a serious social issue: sexual assault on college campuses.

A new study from the National Center for Education Statistics and the Justice Department finds that reported sexual assaults on American college campuses more than tripled from 2,200 in 2001 to 6,700 in 2014.

It’s not clear if more assaults are actually occurring, if victims now feel safer to report assaults or something else is happening behind the numbers. No matter the factors, there is no question that the issue is important and demands inquiry.

That's where a play like "Actually," from playwright Anna Ziegler comes in.

The two-character play, out now at the Geffen Playhouse, delves deeply into the uncomfortable, murky territory that often surrounds the he-said, she-said accounts of a reported sexual assault, especially when memory and consent are blurred by excessive drinking.

The play centers on the aftermath of a sexual encounter between Amber and Tom, two college freshmen at Princeton. Rather than answering the question of whether or not a sexual assault actually occurred, Ziegler says her aim was to challenge assumptions:

The challenge of the play, the challenge I've set myself, is to present two sides that are both sympathetic and that both feel true, and to present that to the audience for their assessment... I was really interested in these kinds of cases that fall in the grey because I think that they probably represent the bulk of these kinds of cases. And my goal really is to challenge the kind of liberal, theater-going audiences' biases that they bring in with them.

To hear the full interview with Anna Ziegler, click the blue player above.

"Actually" is playing at the Geffen Playhouse through June 11.

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