A CurtainUp London Review
Bash: Latterday Plays
Editor's Note: Bash was one of those big little Off-Broadway shows that caused a major stir. First and foremost, it starred TV's Allie McBeal, Calistra Flockhart. Secondly, playwright Neil LaBute was covering terrain familiar to fans of his two big-buzz films, Your Friends and Neighbors and In the Company of Men. Both depicted despicable characters, hiding violent impulses underneath wholesome facades. To add to this there was the combination of very small theater and a brief run. It all made for one of the hottest tickets in town with even press seats limited to just a handful of theatrical journalists. As you can see from Lizzie's review, the play has transferred well with a new cast but same director, set and sound designers. The run is again limited. e.s
bash 1 v to hit; = CLOBBER, SOCK 2 n A party, esp a good exciting one: Her little soirée turned into a real bash 3 n An attempt; = CRACK, WHACK Let's have a bash at moving this thing --The MacMillan Dictionary of American Slang
The Almeida, London's fashionable fringe theatre, is the setting for a welcome and stylish import from off-Broadway, the Bash, Latterday Plays trilogy. Neil LaBute has scripted three narrative plays, two of them monologues, set in contemporary America. The first two pieces hark back to Greek tragedy, with their titles as well as in their use of the Greek dramatic device of the known outcome.
Medea Redux revisits the Medea legend of the woman who killed her own children after being abandoned by her husband. Sitting at a rectangular table beneath a pendant light in a scene recalling Krapp's Last Tape is the figure of a woman of around thirty (Mary McCormack). It seems that she is giving a statement, probably to the police. The light brightly illuminates her with the rest of the stage in darkness. She talks to us with her elbows resting on the table, using her hands for expression. She is divulgent, straightforward, honest and calm. Chain smoking, she recalls her relationship with her English teacher, when she was thirteen and he was much older. Passages of her tale, told without self pity or anger, are lyrical. Her story starts as a love story between her and this man whom we quickly condemn as an adult who has abused his position. She is abandoned, left with a baby. Still she protects the man and does not judge him. After some years, she takes her child to meet him. He is married but childless. It is this meeting that changes the romantic view that she has had of him all these years and leads to the tragedy. She describes the murder but she does not give us a clear motivation. It is as if something has snapped.
The second play Iphigenia in Orem, is even more disturbing. The boozy, anti-feminist, Mormon salesman (Zeljko Ivanek) is repelling, even before he recounts his crime and the terrible career justification for it. In one of those unmistakable hotel bedrooms, the man drones on and on. I could feel myself edging towards the door as one does to try to get away from a bar room bore. With one hand wrapped around a glass of clear spirit, and free to gesticulate with the other, he starts his spin on events. He tells us that he lost a child, Emma, five months old. "There must be some reason behind it, for so much pain . . . but you just go on . . . you just do" he tells us. Tipped off that there are to be redundancies at work, and knowing that he is a strong candidate for dismissal, he manipulates a situation where he is left in charge of the baby. She gets trapped under the covers of their bed. Instead of pulling her free, he cold-bloodedly sees this as an opportunity not to be wasted.
There is an excellent twist to events and again the acting performance is completely believable. It is clear that we are in the hands of a very skilled director, Joe Mantello. Mark Henderson's surprise change of lighting as each play comes to an end adds a highly stylised feel.
The third play, A Gaggle of Saints, starts with explosive pops of a flash gun and bright flashes as Matthew Lillard and Mary McCormack, superbly costumed in black and white evening dress, pose for photographs. The minimal set, painted white with two black chairs adds to the dramatic feel. Lillard and McCormack play a well heeled college boy and girl, WASPs. They relate the events of a party night, addressing the audience alternately but never speaking to each other. He is zany and amusing, she is pretty and pleasant. When the account, which starts off filled with superficial details aout what they drive and wear and ends with the boy talking about the unprovoked murder of a middle aged homosexual in a lavatory, the stage goes dark, a huge shadow dominating. The scene ends as it started, with a flash of light.
So what was so special? Four great performances, skillful direction, stylish sets and excellent lighting -- and an exploration of what lies beneath the surface. Maybe we did not get reasons for the aberrations of behaviour but then maybe life is not that explicable. Maybe sometimes there are no reasons.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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