Neil LaBute has always struck me as occasionally nastily observant but mostly just plain nasty, though his play Some Girl(s), currently running at the Chain Theatre, suffers more from endless tedium than anything else; “predictably shocking” is an oxymoron, and once you figure out what Mr. LaBute is up to, he loses about ninety percent of his power. The play centers around a writer, only called “Guy” (Kirk Gostkowski), who on the eve of his wedding decides to visit a series of ex-girlfriends (with, notably, men’s names) to try and find out what went wrong. This ends up being a laundry list of self-indulgent relationships, from the high school sweetheart (Amber Bogdewiecz) he abandoned for Chicago to the married woman (Kathryn Neville Brown) in Boston to the preteen (Jacyln Sokol) he groped when he was a senior in high school. Mr. LaBute has made a career out of ripping off David Mamet’s Sexual Perversity in Chicago, and yet he seems to have missed the point. Where Mr. Mamet satirizes his characters, Mr. LaBute revels in their depravity; though ostensibly a “sendup of sexual politics”—an actual phrase used in Some Girl(s)—there is something coy in the writing, as if Guy’s womanizing should be vicariously enjoyed before it is condemned. By the time Bobbi (Jill Durso) compares him to J. Robert Oppenheimer and Pol Pot, we become sure that there is a megalomaniacal pleasure in this self-flagellation—I may be awful, but at least I’m up there with the greats!
The choice of such an immature work, then, is baffling, since the company producing it, the Variations Theatre Group, is responsible for the best play I have seen this year: a brilliant revival of Arthur Miller’s masterpiece After the Fall—another uneconomical mea culpa, but from a master who earns his narcissism through his talent. Though Mr. Gostkowski, who was Miller’s alter ego Quentin, stammers his way through a decent performance, he does make us wonder why anyone would fall for this sweaty, insecure, logorrheic hack. (If only he really meant it when he says, “Wow, I suck.”) The highlight, without a doubt, is Asleigh Murray. She plays the sexpot Tyler with a naturalness required from the dialogue and conspicuously absent from her costars: Ms. Brown (who is apparently a criminal prosecutor in addition to being an actress) keeps stumbling over her lines while Ms. Bogdewiecz is nearly unwatchable—she reads Mr. LaBute’s subtext, not particularly subtle in the first place, with her finger firmly pressed on the scale. And scenic designer R. Allen Babcock might take a note from Strindberg, who complained that “stage doors are made of canvas and flap at the slightest touch”—though his are a bit sturdier than cloth, any play that has this many slamming door exits might want to invest in less rattle-prone props.
Such a well-intentioned but ultimately disastrous night tends to leave the viewer feeling depressed. Was it the play, the director, the actors? In this case, unfortunately, all three. And yet, the smoke from Quentin’s cigarettes still lingers in my nostrils, and I suspect that, this catastrophe notwithstanding, the Variations Theatre Group will continue to produce great work.