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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at Lucille Lortel

By David Lefkowitz

  Ron Livingston & Frederick Weller/Ph:Joan Marcus

You either believe it or you don't. Sometimes a play just boils down to that; you accept the characters, their situation and the events set in motion, or you shrug, watch clinically and from a distance, and never for a moment forget the playwright's fingers scribbling (or tapping) away at what feels more like an exercise than a full-blooded drama.

Throughout the first scene of Neil LaBute's In a Dark Dark House, it's tempting to peer around the sides of the undersized projection screen and fake-looking woodland set to seek out a backstage laptop and an author busily hammering out the next bit of dialogue. No luck. Just two actors, Ron Livingston and Frederick Weller, doing their best to create a reality from the contrived set-up: successful married lawyer Drew (Livingston) is in a mental hospital after a coked-up drive with his girlfriend guided his car into a tree. Visiting him is brother Terry (Weller), edgy, more working class, and threatening in an older-sibling kind of way. Drew asks Terry to vouch for him at a release hearing and explain to the doctors that Drew's behavior stems from being molested when he was a child. Terry, who years ago had warned his baby bro about Todd Astin, the local camp counselor, agrees but wonders why it's taken so long for Drew to seek closure.

In scene two, Terry decides to do it for him by seeking out the perpetrator, who now runs a pitch-n'-putt while also working at a gas-n'-go. However, instead of confronting the absent Todd, Terry meets his 16-year-old daughter, a wry, Lolita-ish type who represents a temptation similar to the kind Todd must have felt when surrounded with young men like Drew. Terry and Jennifer's uneasy flirtation, shadowed by his motive of revenge, does bring Dark Dark briefly to life life, though its ramifications aren't especially well addressed in the third and final sequence. That's when the brothers meet up once more, and all the revelations are hashed out, with Terry admitting (as if this were a surprise - to us or to Drew) that he, too, was a victim of Todd's advances, even going so far as to say the feelings were mutual and that Todd was more like a father to him than their own abusive dad.

There's tension in this last scene as we wait to see whether Terry will implode, explode or come to some understanding with his brother about their shared past, but the play still feels prefabricated. The middle scene works best, not only because of the Kirsten Dunst-ian pertness of Louisa Krause, but because here LaBute stops relying on regurgitation of backstory and "my-revelation-tops-yours" blather for all his dramatic momentum.

Not that LaBute merits comparison to Eugene O'Neill, but it's instructive to remember that in, say, Long Day's Journey into Night, the relentless dredging up of the past informs every element of the Tyrones' relationship; it's backstory as the whole story. In House, it's a mostly unconvincing litany of bad luck and worse choices. There's also a basic logic flaw to Drew's initial request of Terry: Why would they need to recall and/or concoct a molestation story as a mitigating circumstance, when their father's abusiveness was very real and just as much a factor shaping their problematic adulthood?

Finally, not to be picky compelling an actor as Frederick Weller can be (remember him as the backwater ballplayer in Take Me Out?), here his mushy vocal pattern sounds just a little too much like Christopher Guest's Frankie character from those "I hate when that happens" SNL sketches.

In fact, I can actually hear it in my head: "Yo Willie, first my dad beats me when I'm a kid, then this guy molests me, then he goes after my brother, then he dumps me, then I steal a car, then I be


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