If your dislike of the characters in a particular piece of drama or your disapproval of their actions equates to a rejection of the work, best steer clear of playwright Neil LaBute (and Richard III and Hedda Gabler, for that matter). LaBute certainly courts such a reaction, and much of the response to his plays has ranged from moral condescension to a refusal to allow that his parched scenarios contain any validity at all.
LaBute certainly has it coming. His oeuvre to date is a methodical takedown of his own gender, a gallery of male knaves full of malice, spinelessness, and enough outright misogyny to create a galaxy of angry reaction. Some Girl(s), staged by Walking Shadow, continues this vividly sickly tradition. Its view of the male romantic suitor, personified by a character called Guy (Clarence Wethern), is so jaundiced that it elicits groans of outrage from its audience.
Yet LaBute keeps being produced, and it isn't (only) because he's an inveterate button-pusher reflexively stoking a view of men as wretched and callous. This series of four hotel-room vignettes, spanning as many cities, is clinically crafted in its cynicism and compellingly performed. It nags at the conscience, particularly once one lets go of the notion that art exists primarily to hold a mirror to ourselves.
Walking Shadow Theatre Company at Pillsbury House Theater
through December 5612.375.0300
Guy, it turns out, has just become engaged to a woman about a decade his junior. Before tying the knot, he decides to embark on a cross-country tour to meet with old girlfriends, a process complicated by his recent success publishing a tell-all piece of quasi-fiction about what he calls his "romantic foibles."
You say foibles, I say dysfunctional hell, but let's split the difference. First up is Sam (Mo Perry), a high school flame keen to point out to Guy that he unceremoniously dumped her whenever he refers to their breakup as mutual. Perry, wrenching richness from thin gruel, expresses shock when Guy informs Sam that he broke up with her because of how he thought she would eventually turn out (reality having confirmed his suspicions).
What a prince. Next is the decidedly feline Tyler (Anna Sundberg), with whom Guy shared a period of relative debauchery that apparently left his soul unstirred. And here the picture emerges of Guy traipsing through heart after heart without learning a damned thing about love, or his romantic partners. Wethern bravely plays it straight, his character despicably self-absorbed, callow, and without an interesting thought to call his own.
The portrait deepens (in a sense) with Lindsay (Jean Salo), a married woman with whom Guy had an affair before skipping town once they were discovered. Salo's performance is raw and uninhibited, though she is also saddled with one of LaBute's trademarks: an unfortunate, unnecessary, and distancing plot twist.
The real doozy, though, arrives in the final encounter, which takes place with Bobbi (Jennifer J. Phillips). Guy explains that talking with her is "part of this whole honesty thing I'm working on" (Wethern delivers these sorts of lines with crushingly blithe obliviousness). Before the scene is over, though, LaBute has delivered yet another clunker of a device, then sent Guy scurrying toward some sort of personal legitimacy.
Ain't gonna happen, as you can well imagine. Bobbi, like the other three, seems chastened and a bit mortified at the limitless prickishness of this man she thought she loved, not to mention his smallness, his grasping at self-aggrandizement, and his microscopic heart.
All this works because of the strength of the cast, as well as Brian Balcom's spirited and text-respecting direction. You almost wish it didn't, because LaBute's work is like a perversely maladjusted acquaintance: It's beside the point to judge him, and equally wrongheaded to deny his squishy and intermittent power to fascinate. And if it all makes you feel better about yourself, go with it—we all deserve the slack. Except, perhaps, for Guy.