Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Bash"

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note: entire contents copyright 2001 by Larry Stark


by Neil Labute
Directed by Jeffrey Mousseau

Scenic Design by Amanda Wager
Lighting Design by John Malinowski
Costume Design by Kristin Glans
Sound Design by J. Hagenbuckle
Stage Manager Amber Kersting

"A Gaggle of Saints"

John.............................Scott Barrow
Sue.............................Laura Latreille

"Iphigenia in Orem"

Young Man.............................Bill Mootos

"Medea Redux"

Woman.............................Laura Latreille

The first striking thing about the Coyote Theatre's production of "Bash" is Amanda Wager's set --- a sheer wall of what looks like polished aluminum or stainless steel, stretched diagonally across the back of the playing-space, the slightly curved plates of which ripple and distort reflections of the lights. The show starts with John Malinowski's lights going BANG-out with intertwined ribbons of red and white thrown onto that polished, uneven mirror, while J. Hagenbuckle's sharply jarring music assaults the ear like grinding-wheels on steel. All of this is perfect metaphor for Neil Labute's text, flawlessly directed by Jeffrey Mousseau and brought unflinchingly to life by a trio of actors who never move from their chairs. The whole is shatteringly absorbing theater.

Labute's three plays are ultimately horror-stories, each one involving a murder that erupts, apparently, out of nowhere in the perfectly ordinary lives of everyday people. Each is a spontaneous, yet oddly rational --- or perhaps rationalized --- response to circumstance. And so nuance is everything here, particularly because Labute's minimalism, unlike Beckett's, is embedded in the rhythms and locutions of ordinary American speech. The quite unexpected violence in each case is contemplated at a distance by perpetrators who still cannot believe they were even involved, and in only one case is anyone else even aware that what happened actually took place. The events are all the more powerfully shocking because they're embedded in ordinariness.

Technically, "Bash" is an exploration of monologue --- or, better put, the single-voice play. In the second called "Iphigenia in Orem" Bill Mootos talks to another, a person invited up to his hotel room for a drink and to hear a confession. In the last "Medea Redux" Laura Latreille sits smoking alone in a jail-cell recording her own labyrinthine explanation of why. Both these plays ramble, as though the speaker is eager to focus on precise detail at the edge rather than the center of the story at hand, yet ultimately there is not a wasted syllable in any of Labute's plays. And in every case, guided no doubt by Director Mousseau's eye, the actors carve the text with pauses, gesture, pacings, moments of thought or reflection, bursts of laughter or excitement, in a way that is almost sculptural, always believable.

"A Gaggle of Saints" the first play, is actually a shared or paired monologue. Throughout, Scott Barrow and Laura Latreille never look at each other until the last instant, though their intermittent, interrupting versions describe the same evening of dancing (the "bash" of the title), the same three-couple drive down from Boston College to The Plaza, the same luminous pre-engagement tinge to everything for these still-in-love six-year steadies.

Yet their stories represent two states of innocence. It is both significant and irrelevant that all the speakers in these plays are Mormon --- uprightly upwardly mobile upper-middle slightly special citizens of a sect that is the ultimate in Christian smug. As such, they embody here that silent moral majority's role-definitions for male and female. Sue is sensitively protected, social, chaste. John is masterful, decisive, vindictively moral. An inner glow of righteousness subconsciously dictates everything they do --- which is true of everyone. Kristin Glans' tuxedo and taffeta, as do all her costumes, are particularly expressive here.

So you can see why that straight, gleamingly-polished metal wall --- with its subtly bulging irregularities catching and distorting the light --- is the perfect setting for these three riveting performances.


In the first few summers I was here in Boston the Institute of Contemporary Arts had an exhibit-space out beside what is now The Publick Theatre. At my first visit, walking through an excellent exhibition of new stuff, I burst into a room filled with monumental constructions made of welded stainless-steel boxes. They were the wholly fresh, breakthrough "Cubi series" made by America's world-class sculptor David Smith. He left the rough marks of a grinding-wheel on those surfaces that glint even today from their surfaces wherever I happen to see one of them again. Obviously, they leaped to mind last Sunday afternoon when I, again, stepped into a room to see something delightfully, expressively, excitingly new.

"Bash" (till 5 May)
Boston Center for The Arts, 539 Tremont Street, BOSTON
1 (617) 426-2787

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide