Murder most foul


By Neil LaBute
Directed by Bob Kruse
Passage Theatre Group
Center Stage
Non-union production (closed)
Review by Charles Battersby

When Bash was first produced at the Douglas Fairbanks theatre in 1999, it got more press for its leading lady than its grizzly subject matter. Much hubbub came from the fact that it featured Callista Flockhart as a teen mother who murders her own child. As if Ally McBeal wasn't horrifying enough, Bash added in an extra scene of infanticide, and threw in some gay-bashing too.

LaBute's play is actually a trilogy of short pieces. The first is the aforementioned teen mother story, and the second a similar story, with a murderous father. The third is about a murderous homophobe, whose girlfriend is oblivious to his violent nature and sexual leanings.

This production started out slow. The first scene, titled Medea Redux, is a lengthy monolog in which a Young Woman (Shaun Jessie) recounts the affair she had with a teacher when she was 13. With the Medea reference in the title, it's not hard to see where La Bute is going with this story. Despite the inevitable conclusion, the script is still very strong. Unfortunately this production was not up to the dramatic intensity of the material. Director Bob Kruse kept the stage static and unchanging, with his actress seated throughout the piece. Lighting (by Brian Rohner) was limited to a single light, placed directly over Jessie's head, thereby keeping her face shadowed and unreadable. The rest of the stage was also hidden in darkness. The result was uninteresting, and held together only because of the script.

The show picked up with the second scene, also a lengthy monolog, and kept up the Greek motif with the title Iphigenia in Oren. Bryan Ryan handled his role better, and the directing was more active here too. Rohner's lighting actually lit the stage in this scene, and the result created a drastic increase in the overall quality of this second scene. Ryan's performance made him the standout member of this cast.

LaBute's final scene was the only one with two actors on stage. Shaun Jessie returned, handling this role of infatuated teen much more proficiently than her first scene as teen psycho. Joining her was Christopher Bischoff as her homophobic goon boyfriend. Both succeeded in portraying their characters sympathetically; Jessie came across as blinded by romance, and Bischoff was convincingly confused by his unconscious rage.

LaBute's stories are all held together by a theme of casual violence. His characters kill when it suits their needs, and demonstrate little if any remorse. The stories are all too plausible, and the trilogy has an extremely realistic feel to it. Bash is an interesting choice for a young Off-Off-Broadway company to produce, and the strength of the script makes up for any failings in the production (despite the low number of Ally McBeals in this particular production).

A warning, though, many Callista Flockhart fans learned in 1999, that this play is quite disturbing, and certainly not for the squeamish. Although there is no blood or gore, LaBute's words alone may be too much for the faint of heart.

Box Score:

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

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Copyright 2004 Charles Battersby