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A CurtainUp Review
In a Dark DarkHouse

Todd gave me something that I had never felt before and cannot find from anything else out there. — Terry about a character who, though unseen, plays a major role in Neil LaBute's In a Dark Dark House.
Frederick Weller and Ron Livingston
(l-r) Frederick Weller and Ron Livingston
(Photo: Joan Marcus)

Neil LaBute's plays are often more painful than pleasurable to watch. There are times, when you want to leave your seat and get away from his characters. But there's something about these people and their stories, and their very contemporary American way of speaking that draws you in. The often fragmentary dialogue is packed with information and also challenges you to read between the lines, and think about the playwright's intentions long after you've left the theater. In a Dark Dark House, his latest play for MCC, a company which, like LaBute, has a penchant for dark plays (Frozen, Wit, The Last Easter, Colder Than Here) is no exception.

Whether with monologues or interaction between two or more characters, Mr. LaBute functions as an archeologist digging beneath the surface of the relationships among family members, friends and lovers. In a Dark Dark House probably comes closest to The Distance From Here (see link below) in that it too demonstrates the ripple and long-term effects of family dysfunction and violence.

Since so much rides on twisty turns, a LaBute play tends to be tough to review. Even a fingernail sized summary tends to be a spoiler if you want readers to come to their own conclusions about the characters' psyches and relationships. I'll therefore confine my what it's about to the nail on a pinky:
Two brothers in their thirties are uneasily connected by a miserable past involving a brutal father, a weak mother, as well as a sexually abusive outsider. Terry, the older brother has always come to the aid of Drew, the younger one who's actually economically very successful. The latest rescue episode serves as the plot arc and trigger for recollecting what went on in that "dark dark house" and its effect on these men. It starts in a court-appointed upscale rehab center and ends with a party at Drew's home after his release.
The repeat adjective of the title can be seen as underscoring the intensity of the dark, harsh home the brothers grew up in. It also points to other dualities: The cruel father and the sexually predatory young man represent two dark forces. Their actions affected both boys differently, but clearly left a dark dark imprint on their psyches. Terry has hung on to his inherent tough decency but also his anger and he seems unable to have a normal family life. Drew, while a father, husband and rich, lacks moral fiber.

As in the past, MCC has give Mr. LaBute's story everything it takes to bring out all its nuances, including the fill-in-the blanks parts. To begin with there's the cast. It's a fine three-piece chamber group, though top honors go to Frederick Weller who was as impressive as a gay man in Terrence McNally's Some Men as he was as the homophic Shane in Richard Greenberg's Take Me Out. , and who's even better as the complex older brother Terry. He's well paired with Ron Livingston as Drew, the kid brother whoonly seems to have weathered the rough childhood better than Terry (he's got a wife, kids and oodles of money). His current drug problem is only the latest screwup.

Louisa Krause rounds out the cast as a cute teen aged sex pot who manages her dad's miniature golf course. Her role at first seems a minor diversion, a chance for Weller to lighten up and be more charming than tough and intense (which he does beautifully). However, that scene is actually a crucially character defining one and very much a piece of the overall puzzle.

While Carolyn Cantor hasn't directed this playwright's work before, she's no stranger to dark, edgy material. She allows the actors plenty of time to reveal the subtext beneath the dialogue and at the same time keeps the action moving through the three intermissionless scenes.

Beowulf Boritt, whose scenery seems to be on stages all over town these days, has created a handsome two-level set suggesting the wide open spaces. It works well for the miniature golf scene, but it's too tricked out for the scenes at the rehab facility and Drew's million dollar home that bookend it. Sound designer Rob Kaplowitz has created the propulsive intra-scene soundscape's that are something of a LaBute production trademark.

The prolific LaBute, well on the way to becoming the theatrical equivalent of Joyce Carol Oates, currently has yet another play on the boards, a one-acter called Things We Said Today, that's part of the EST One-Act Marathon series. The two plays have little in common except that both use a cell phone as an important bit of "business."

This simultaneous exposure and the fact that this is one of the few younger American playwrights who has been able to see his work produced in New York, in regional theaters as well as in London is a hearteningly contradictory addendum to my comment at the end of my recent review of A. R. Gurney's Crazy Mary ("As people like Mary as well as her more tightly wrapped cousin Lydia are "leftovers" from a by-gone era, so are playwrights like A. R. Gurney who can turn out a large body of work and count on having the good, the bad and the in between produced. How one wishes that more of today's young playwrights would have the opportunity to keep testing their work on audiences and to have the freedom to fail in order to succeed").

And so, as with the productive and much produced Mr. Gurney, I can feel free to like some of Neil LaBute's plays better than others since he's become popular enough, especially with that much coveted under 35 audience, to keep giving his fertile mind free reign. That under 35 demographic was out in full force on the night I saw this play. If their enthusiasm at curtain time is any indication, In a Dark Dark House should have a bright bright future.

Neil LaBute Plays Reviewed at CurtainUp:
bash (London)
The Shape of Things(Berkshires)
The Shape of Things/LaBute, Neil (London and NYC)
The Distance From Here (Los Angeles)
The Distance From Here(London & New York)
Fat Pig (MCC)
Fat Pig (Los Angeles)
The Mercy Seat
Some Girls (London)
Some Girls (MCC)
This Is How It Goes
This Is How It Goes (London)
Things We Said Today-EST Marathon

By Neil LaBute
Directed by Carolyn Cantor
Cast: Ron Livingston (Drew), Louisa Krause (Jennifer), Frederick Weller (Terry)
Sets: Beowulf Boritt
Costumes: Jenny Mannis
Lights: Ben Stanton
Music and Sound Design: Rob Kaplowitz
Running Time: 90 minutes
MCC Theaters at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher Street 212-279-4200
From 5/16/07 to 6/23/07--extended to 7/07/07; opening 6/07/07
Tue - Wed at 7pm; Thu - Sat at 8pm; Sat at 2pm; Sun at 3pm.
Tickets: $70, $33 for new MCC subscribers.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer on June 4th
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