Thursday, June 27, 2013

Reasons to Be Happy

That's the play I saw tonight Off-Broadway in New York by Neil LaBute, which is winding up a limited run--the small house (Lucille Lortel, formerly the Theatre de Lys on Christopher St.) was packed.  Good reviews must have brought audiences in because the play was not advertised nor even in the Times directory of shows.

It's a sequel to his "reasons to be pretty" which was on Broadway four years ago and nominated for the Best Play Tony. Both plays are taut--LaBute writes the best, snappiest, down-and-dirty dialogue since the great David Mamet plays like Glengarry Glen Ross.  

His four characters are defiantly provincial to the core--working in small plants in nondescript suburbs at deadend jobs. Each is a type but are still very believable. Steph has a vicious temper; Greg is a wishy-washy, would-be intellectual; Kent is proud to be a dumb jock but gets lots of good trenchant lines; and Carly is too genuinely nice to be a security guard.

There are lots of back-and-forth relationships breaking and regrouping: one couple broke up, the other divorced, now the divorced woman is dating the man whose four-year live-in relationship broke up. But the woman are still close friends, and the men are as tight as LaBute ever allows men to show warm instincts, which is rarely.

One character is looking beyond the diminished horizon of the break room in the plant to become an English teacher; the others mostly scorn his growing interest in books rather than gossip, malls, and high school football. But Greg--for he is the would-be litterateur, strings each of the women along and impels them to commit major sacrifices in their pursuit of him, while trying to remain out of reach yet asking them to sympathize with his inability to commit. 

By the end, he looms as more despicable in his avoidance than even Steph with her repeated explosive temper. Moreover, Kent, whose character shows LaBute pressing hardest on almost a satire of a homophobic primitive, grows more sympathetic in his loneliness and ignorance than Greg in his refusal to be pinned down and be straight with either of the women.

All in all, it's a fast-paced two hours and a bit more.  I, for one, hope LaBute produces--he directed this production, too--yet another installment in his saga of stimulating common people, these characters you might be standing next to in the super market or the mall on any given day. They may not be likeable at any part or all of the time but their personas ring true and, as others have noted, show LaBute, for him at least, with a warmer view of the human condition than his earlier misanthropic work disclosed.

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