Here’s how you can tell when your play is working: you’ve got an Amen Corner. On the night I saw No Rules Theatre take its maiden voyage with a fine production of Some Girl(s), the Amen Corner was in full voice, gasping in shock and recognition at the audacity of the dialogue and the plot points. Brothers and sisters, welcome to Church – the Church of Neil LaBute.
Some Girl(s) is the story of some guy named Guy (Brian Sutow), who has just gotten a story published in the New Yorker and who now, mellow with happiness, decides to undertake a voyage of reconciliation to former girlfriends who he has, in one way or another, wronged. He meets them all in hotel rooms. There’s Sam, the high-school sweetie in Seattle (Clementine Thomas), Tyler, the sexually expressive artist in Chicago (Morgan Reis), Lindsay, the married English professor in Boston (Lisa Hodsoll) and Bobbi, the One True Love in Los Angeles (Emily Simoness). To every one of them he has a Most Sincere Apology. And these apologies? They are the most dreadful ever. (“Not just that!” he says to the professor, who accuses him of walking out on her because she is older than he). As you watch the women reduced to rage, to tears, to tears of rage, you think is he stupid? Does he secretly want to hurt these women all over again? The truth, when it comes out toward the end of the second Act, is incomparably worse.
This is all I’m going to tell you about the story. You should approach this play, as you should approach most LaBute plays, from a place of innocence, so that you can be shocked by his impolite honesty. Producing companies, too, should approach this play from a place, if not of innocence, then at least from one of ingenuousness, so that the characters themselves seem shocked by the words that float out of their mouths. In this, No Rules succeeds. The second scene, with the Chicago artist, seems a bit over-the-top and out of sync (which may be due more to LaBute’s overwriting than to the actors or director Joshua Morgan) and goes on a little long, but the company nails the other three scenes. In particular, Thomas, who has worked primarily as a dramaturg and writer, is fabulous as the home-town girl Guy left behind. Her Sam demonstrates, once again, that people who seem dull and pedestrian are in fact lively and complex. Her Sam, a moral woman with a conventional husband successful in his own milieu, struggles with the excitement which Guy represents, and the sexual pull she feels toward the man who took her virginity. What LaBute only implies in the text she makes outspoken in face and gesture, and thus makes herself a collaborator in the art which LaBute creates. Thomas joins a long list of Washington-area actors whom we ought to see more often.
The confrontation between Guy and Lindsey which starts off the second Act crackles with tension, in large part because of the work of Sutow and Hodsoll. Hodsoll’s Lindsey starts in on Guy immediately, as aggressive as Manny Pacquiao sawing through some overmatched palooka. For the first time, Guy, who has to this point been insulated by his self-absorption and self-regard, begins to take on water, and Sutow does a terrific job showing a man losing his emotional ballast. His downward spiral continues through the remainder of the play, and his recovery at the end, gruesome though it is, is as gripping as watching a lion bring down an antelope.
Like Mamet, LaBute writes dialogue which reveals as much by what it doesn’t say as by what it says. Characters dodge questions, begin to say things and then stop, and look at each other silently in hopes that someone else will speak. In short, LaBute requires a good director. Morgan, who with Sutow is the company’s co-artistic director, is first-rate. The dialogue sounds honest and true, the play’s wit – often expressed in throwaway lines – is fully exposed, and the production is full of clever little touches. Such as: Morgan accomplishes set changes by having the actors, dressed as hotel maids, come in and move the furniture; where there is a complex costume change he has them spray the drapes with Fabreze so that there is not a moment’s unnatural delay.
And, let me tell you, the Amen Corner loved it. There were barks of surprise, gasps of stupefaction, cries of affirmation and, over and over, laughter.
No Rules announces its intention to be “to bridge the resources and opportunities between their foundation in Winston-Salem, NC and the supportive and creative home they are making in Washington, D.C.” It is no surprise to find Jeremy Skidmore, the innovative director and theater thought leader who began the immigration from Winston-Salem to Washington in the previous decade, on the No Rules Board of Directors. (The principal of Skidmore’s talent agency, Roger Yoerges, chairs the No Rules Board). If all of the No Rules productions are going to be as good as this one, long may they migrate!
By Neil LaBute
Directed by Joshua Morgan
Produced by No Rules Theatre Co.
Reviewed by Tim Treanor
Some Girl(s) closes March 21, 2010.
For details, directions and tickets, click here.