Hard truths


By Neil LaBute
Directed by Laurie Sales
Joint Stock Theatre Alliance
The Studio Theater at the Producers Club
358 West 44th St. (212/561-0979)
Equity showcase (closes June 12)
Review by Jenny Sandman

In my own work, I have always strived to give an honest finish to a given story. Not happy, not sad, not surprising. Just honest.

--Neil LaBute

Playwright Neil LaBute (The Mercy Seat; The Distance from Here) is consistently one of Off-Broadway's freshest and most unsettling new writers. He's also taken his talents to Hollywood as a film writer/director (In the Company of Men; Nurse Betty). His 1999 hit play Bash had a successful Off-Broadway run and was subsequently filmed for Showtime. Because of its brevity and simplicity, it's since become a popular production on college campuses.

Bash is a disturbing play, consisting of three sections. "Iphigenia in Orem" has a nervous, fidgety traveling salesman talking about his daughter's death while on the road. In "Gaggle of Saints," two WASPy college kids talk about a big night out in the City. In the final offering, "Media Redux," a woman tells the police about her affair with her science teacher when she was 13. The monologs (or, in the case of "Gaggle of Saints," overlapping monologues) are brutal confessionals that turn on a dime. The characters (all Mormon) seem normal enough, but there's always a macabre twist, a hidden edge to their stories. Each is about a grisly crime told matter-of-factly, and though the characters seem normal, they all have an underlying desperation.

Joint Stock Theater Alliance mounted Bash as the barest of productions, on a blank stage with only a chair and table, allowing the earnest actors and blunt language to command the audience's full attention. Each member of the cast -- Lilah Fisher, Holter Graham, Kurt Uy, and Kelly Van Zile -- did a great job of inhabiting his or her troubled character. Holter Graham was the fidgety salesman, easily the most convincing of the bunch. Kurt Uy and Lilah Fisher made up the disingenuous if overly naïve college couple; Kelly Van Zile was the grown-up Lolita of the last monolog, intense and unstable (though she played her almost too rigidly, as more autistic than troubled). Though there was not much to look at -- a black box, seated actors, little to no movement -- the language is the centerpiece. Director Laurie Sales wisely acknowledged that in her spare production.

While the seats were not the most comfortable, it's a short play, and an important one. Neil LaBute is a rising talent, and Bash is already acclaimed as one of his triumphs. Joint Stock Theater Alliance chose wisely and performed well.

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 1
Acting: 2
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2004 Jenny Sandman