Theater of Thought’sBash is a must-see
Every once in a while a playwright comes along with a distinct point of view and a voice that can’t be ignored. Neil LaBute is one of those rarities — think David Mamet with an obsession with sociopaths. Bash, his trio of disturbing one-acts, is being staged at Perishable Theatre (through March 15) by a promising new company, Theater of Thought.
This production is a must-see. Theater of Thought is based in Narragansett, where its recent well-received performance of Bash prompted it to stage a teaser run in Cranston last weekend and then come to Providence.
In LaBute’s screenplay and direction of the chilling In the Company of Men, he demonstrated that his primary interest is the psychology of emotionally stunted characters, in that case a couple of pathologically misogynistic young corporate honchos. In Bash we witness three killings through the recollections of their perpetrators, in two monologues and a shared narration. Those grim eventualities are tipped off well before they happen, so instead of being used for suspense, the looming deaths provide long shadows darkening what are sometimes lighthearted accounts.
Originally subtitled “Latter Day Plays,” the amoral characters in Bash stand in ironic contrast to the moral imperatives of Latter-day Saints. The Mormon couple in “Gaggle of Saints” are John (Jason Cabral) and Sue (Anna Smith). The two Boston College students tell us about a delightful prom-like evening they had in Manhattan when they limousined down with two other couples to a Mormon social gathering. Their narrative intertwines and they remain amused even when he steps in front to tell us something he has kept from her, that he and the two other male friends beat a gay guy in the park, probably to death.
I could imagine other actors interpreting these characters somewhat differently than these two, but I can’t imagine better performances. Smith captures Sue as the picture of self-possession, which could so easily have slipped into smugness. She also provides quiet little bonuses, such as a brief cloud of regret dimming her poise when she mentions a previous boyfriend. Cabral’s John has a similar richness, which is difficult because this is a person who doesn’t think twice about justifying his violent act; to him, homosexuals simply are less than human. So Cabral conveys him the hard way: instead of displaying flickers of doubt, he shows bursts of pride at what appalls us.
Speaking of convincingly inhabiting a character, in “Medea Redux” Amber Kelly creates a person so strongly motivated for her horrific act that we would be surprised if she ever dropped her smile of grim satisfaction. The remarkable thing about the performance is that some part of us never stops rooting for this otherwise girlishly appealing character. The title has informed us that the unnamed young woman, approaching 30, has murdered her child, but the charming portrayal creates a cognitive dissonance, as though we’re watching Mr. Rogers sweetly announce North American Man/Boy Love Association membership. (Kelly is directed here by Rich Morra and directs the other two plays.)
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