Oh Neil LaBute, you really, really, REALLY like the F-Word don't you? As a verb, noun, adjective, you never limit it to any particular part of speech, instead you let it roam free througout your plays like your play reasons to be pretty which recently, and sort of surprisingly, was put on at Viterbo University of all places. To understand exactly the weird sort of cross section you'll get at Viterbo when going to see a show, especially something like LaBute which tiptoes on the line of edgy, I'll explain the people sitting in my general vacinity: hipster girls in black frame glasses and leggings, community theatre actors and actresses, a random smattering of faculty members and a priest and a nun. Welcome to a historically Catholic college.
Often described as a "dark comedy," in a lot of ways, it's one of LaBute's lighter plays and given that this play involves the cheating on of a pregnant woman, you know that his material often goes to the darker aspects of human behavior. The play details the falling apart of a relationship as a directionless boyfriend has the bad judgment to refer to his girlfriend's face as essentially average compared to a new girl at his work. When this bit of info is reported to her by her close friend, let's say she doesn't take it well.
As played by Charlie Ward, Greg is less of a total asshole and more of an amiable if slightly clueless young man who doesn't know the bomb he has set off in his relationship. It was interesting to see Ward, who I last saw in the interesting if clusterfuck-ish production of Chess, playing such a different character from his chess champion who had two women flinging and singing for his love. Believable in both parts, Ward gives Greg an underlying sweetness that makes him rootable even when he's doing less than rootable things, a standard method of operation in a LaBute play.
Playing Stephanie, Abi Johnson has a very difficult role to play. Anyone who has ever read or seen a LaBute production, it's always painfully obvious he has issues with women, and the character of Stephanie follows that line of thought. Her first few appearances in the play have her screaming at Greg, threatening to kill his goldfish, and reading a list of all the flaws she hates about him to get even. The fact she isn't a total shrew is a) a credit to Johnson finding the humanity under the rage that made me sympathetic to the character in ways even I was surprised by and b) the writing never makes it a right person vs. wrong person and instead is messy and complicated.
In the role of Kent, John Dobbratz gets to play somebody who is nothing short of
We've all run into a guy like Kent. It's probably at Brothers or The Library. He's that guy who is reasonably attractive with a gleefully hormonal personality that is aggressively juvenile in its few point of the world. Not terribly booksmart but street smart with just enough charm to not make your skin crawl. He usually has a huge warning sign above his head telling you go run in the other direction. Dobbratz adeptly embodies this character and takes him beyond just your standard "bro" character. Kent, as played by Dobbratz, is both a little dumb and a little too clever for his own good, especially in his ability to read people. It's a toxic but intriguing combination. Would tell a friend to date him?
But it makes for wonderful theatre.
Last but not least, Jessica Afton Everett in the role of Carly, a security guard with the huge misfortune of being involved with Kent. The closest to an innocent victim as you get in the play, Everett plays Carly not as a simpleton or hopelessly naive but more of a pleasant person sort of blind to the asshole she's dating. It's that acting choice that makes her interrogation of Greg when she starts figuring out that Kent might be cheating believable in both her skill in investigating but also how she could step back from the evidence in her face. For me, that moment is the equivalent of watching a girl run up the stairs instead of out the door in a slasher film.
The play ends a happier note than one necessarily expects from LaBute. I mean, one relationship is totally going to be destroyed and another one is over, but it's almost optimistic in the grand scheme of his work. Johnson and Ward's good chemistry, always there in their other scenes, are particularly there when Johnson's character comes to visit Ward's character at his work to let him know about her engagment.
In a lot of ways, it plays like an infinitely less cheesy version of the ending of The Way We Were
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed both the play and the performances within it. I also hope that it being put on is a sign of edgier works finding a foothold in this town. I mean, I'm sure even Annie wanted to flick off Daddy Warbucks at points.
Bonus, Florence and the Machine's "Kiss With a Fist" smartly used in Viterbo's production.