Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
“ bash ” and “In a Dark Dark House” – ion theatre
AIRDATE: OCTOBER 17, 2008
Life is no picnic in LaBute -Land. Playwright and filmmaker Neil LaBute goes dark and deep – into the dimmest, most dastardly recesses of the human soul. In his cringe-inducing dramas, which are often laced with lacerating humor, bad people don’t necessarily get what they deserve. They often get what they want – and get away with it.
LaBute has achieved a kind of royalty status – he’s the Crown Prince of Nasty, the King of Caustic. His characters are cheerfully cruel. But they’re not monsters. They all seem like rather decent, rational people, until they step over the fine line between good and evil. In LaBute’s mind, anyone could stumble over that line.
Now along comes the plucky little ion theatre, always ready to take a walk on the wild side. They’re offering two wicked LaBute works in repertory. One is “bash: the latter day plays,” a 1999 trio of one-acts in which all the characters are Mormons, as LaBute once was, before he was “ disfellowshipped ” after the drama premiered. His Latter Day Saints are anything but. In unblinking confessionals, each admits, rather matter-of-factly, to the most heinous of crimes: infanticide, child electrocution, homophobic murder. These are morality plays, or rather, amorality plays, riffs on Greek myths updated for our soulless modern times.
In “ Medea Redux ,” for example, a young woman raises a boy fathered by her high school teacher – when she was 14. There’s only one way she can get back at the man who seduced and abandoned her. And it isn’t pretty.
In ion’s intimate space, the set is perfectly simple, the upstage projections creating an eerie backdrop for these hair-raising tales. Glenn Paris has directed with a deft hand, and his two actors, Brian Mackey and Rachael Van Wormer, playing four morally ambiguous characters, give bone-chilling performances.
Van Wormer is also terrific in “In a Dark Dark House,” as a sassy 16 year-old who flirts with a middle-aged man hellbent on revenge. She’s just a foil, and the frustration is, we never know what befalls her. Most of the sinister action is between two brothers, both abused, dancing around the horrors of their childhood until the revelations come in torrents, and we’re left drowning in doubt, more confused than enlightened. Claudio Raygoza is effective as the wealthy man who hasn’t got a shred of decency or conscience. And Jeffrey Jones is terrifying as the brother with a blue-collar job and a serious anger problem. Watching the rage and resentment escalate is a thrilling if profoundly disturbing experience.
LaBute has a brilliant ear for gritty, faltering, real-life dialogue, and it often makes audiences squirm. If you’ve got a high horror-tolerance, or an attraction to repulsion, you’ll find an evening with the Bad Boy LaBute to be a bash.
“ bash ” and “In a Dark Dark House” run in repertory through November 1, at ion theatre’s Lab space in Mission Valley , near SDSU.
©2008 PAT LAUNER