Men are unfeeling pieces of slime and women aren't much better. Hey gang, Neil LaBute has a new one for us!
I kid, only because his latest offering, In A Dark Dark House pretty much contains the expected bits of reprehensible human behavior you'd expect from the author of Fat Pig and The Shape Of Things. And why not? Nice people are fun to be around in real life, but LaBute at his best – when he really makes you feel the urge to take a hot shower and scrub the experience of watching the play off of every spec of you – is solid attention-grabbing theatre. This engrossing tale of emotional and sexual abuse from a playwright who excels in presenting non-judgmental glimpses of the uglier side of human nature is a tensely tight ninety minutes of intriguing story-telling.
Revealing too much of the plot risks giving away the twists and turns, but what I'll tell you is that successful lawyer Drew (Ron Livingston) lands in a psychiatric hospital after a bit of a spree involving drunk driving and cocaine. If his security guard brother Terry (Frederick Weller) will corroborate his story of being sexually abused by a family friend while they were growing up, it could speed up his release. The painful hesitancy with which Livingston reveals his character's past might not just be from the horror of reliving the situation, but from knowing what a live wire his brother can be. Weller dominates the evening, making Terry a tense bundle of controlled nerves that can flick from blue-collar charm to dangerous outbursts. His scruffy charm comes in handy when dealing with Jennifer (Louisa Krause), the 16-year-old manager of the local miniature golf course. Krause plays the role with a convincing mixture of intentional and unintentional sexuality.
Labute's wonderfully rhythmic dialogue, with many darkly comic moments, sounds perfectly natural with director Carolyn Cantor's cast. Beowulf Boritt's grassy bi-leveled set nicely fills the requirements for the play's three locales and sound designer Robert Kaplowitz cranks out some aggressively loud rock music between scenes, keeping the discomfort level nice and high.
In A Dark Dark House is a neat little bloodless Grand Guignol for the imagination. You may want to bring a bar of soap.
Photos by Joan Marcus: Top: Frederick Weller
Center: Frederick Weller and Ron Livingston
Bottom: Frederick Weller and Louisa Krause