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A CurtainUp Review
The Way We Get By

"You're gonna let me walk out of here and we're gonna dream about this, all the time, but in reality we'll stay away from each other, a few more years will pass. . ."
—Doug, about where he sees their passionate coming together after a party heading. He sees that outcome as typical of how people settle for second-best lives: "That's how people do it...that's the way we get by."
The Way We Get By
Thomas Sadoski and Amanda Seyfried (Photo by Joan Marcus)
The way he tackles dark subjects and toxic relationships in plays like Company of Men, The Shape of Things Fat Pig and Reasons to Be Happy have earned Neil LaBute a reputation as the contemporary theater's misanthrope-provocateur-in-chief. No shying away from taboo subjects (as in Bash: Latterday Plays and Wrecks). No happy endings for his couples.

But if his latest, The Way We Get By, is any indication, middle age (he's now 52) has mellowed LaBute a bit. The 80-minute 2-hander is built around a fairly common New York singles story of people meeting up and winding up in the bedroom of one or the other's apartment. For Doug (Thomas Sadoski) and Beth (Amanda Seyfried) their night of sex is fueled by a lot of liquor consumed at a party. The play unfolds on the morning after, which finds both Doug and Beth more uncomfortable with each other than in a cozy glow.

Beth is more than just pretty, but nevertheless turns out to be something of a loser. She's allowed her roommate to rule their shared domicile, applying her compulsive need to control everything from the decor to what to watch on TV. The men Beth has been with have left her feeling frustrated about not being loved for her whole person. Her night with Doug is thus an unplanned break in her being on a hiatus from these go-nowhere relationships. In short, though the sex was great, she's unlikely to want or trust this to be something more.

This sounds like a perfect set-up for Doug to be one of those Labutian men you love to hate. But though rather immature for a guy who's apparently in his 30s, he's more awkward than awful. Like Beth he's had frequent but consistently unsatisfying hook-ups with the opposite sex, and unlike her he's not a wham-bang runaway guy.

Doug is also a talker, and what follows is a verbal sparring fest interspersed with some sexy business that promise a replay of the night before. It's interesting to see LaBute in this less misanthrophic mode and there's a nice mix of humorous banter and poignant yearning here. He also enlivens this sweet but slight comedy with a back story in keeping with his penchant for shocking plot twists. In this case, that surprise element works to expand the familiar boy meets girl structure with a broader reflection on the value systems that determine our life choices — like setting too much store by what people will think, rather than grabbing a chance at happiness. In short, choosing between a fully lived life or, per the title, opting for the way most people get by.

Since this isn't an O'Henry story, the twist in this story is introduced well before the end. Consequently I can't go into more detail without risking accusations of being a spoiler. For readers who want full chapter and verse, I'm therefore putting more of the plot details in a text box with a yellow background at the very bottom of this page. To read it scroll down to the bottom of the page or click this : Spoiler Text Link).

Thomas Sadoski and Amanda Seyfried (he's a seasoned stage and screen actor, she's a movie star making her live stage debut) manage to project potent chemistry and make us care what happens to Beth and Doug. Sadowski is especially good, fluidly moving from Doug's amusing awkwardness as he stumbles around the strange apartment to his desperate and quite poignant fight to convince Beth that happy endings are possible.

The production values are typically top notch as everything at Second Stage tends to be. Director Leigh Silverman sees to it that there's as much movement as possible in this talky play that can't avoid having the actors too often standing and facing each other. And Mr. La Bute proves that beneath all that darkness, beats the heart of genuine romantic.

Links to plays by Neil LaBute reviewed at Curtainup:
Reasons to Be Happy
In a Dark Dark House
The Shape of Things
This Is How It Goes
The Distance From Here
The Mercy Seat
Reasons to be Pretty
Some Girls
Fat Pig
Bash: latterday plays
The Money Shot
The Break of Noon
Land of the Dead
This Is How It Goes
In a Forest, Dark and Deep

The Way We Get By
Written by Neil Labute
Directed by Leigh Silverman
Cast: Thomas Sadoski (Doug), Amanda Seyfried (Beth).
Sets: Neil Patel
Costumes: Emily Rebholz
Lights: Matt Frey
Sound: Bart Fasbender
Stage Manager: Amanda Kosack
Running Time: 80 Minutes
Second Stage W. 43rd Street
From 4/28/15; opening 5/20/15; closing 6/21/15
Tues - Fri at 7PM, Sat at 8PM, Weds & Sat at 2PM.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 5/18/15 press performance
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Spoiler Text
The surprise twist in this morning after a one-night fling story is that Doug and Beth are not strangers, but know each other since 7th grade. After his father's affair with her mother culminated in marriage, they were raised as brother and sister. Though Doug has always loved Beth, it took their dysfunctional parents' party to celebrate the renewal their frayed marital vows to bring Doug and Beth together-- and finally land in each other's arms. Beth's insecurities about standing up to her roommate and being used and loved by men only for how she looks and his own meaningless romantic entanglements threaten to negate a happy ending. The chief stumbling block is the what-will- people-say aspect of their morphing from brother and sister into a couple. But this being LaBute in a mellow mood, an old-fashioned movie ending is not impossible.
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