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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at the Lucille Lortel

By Raven Snook

  Frederick Weller and Louisa Krause/Ph: Joan Marcus

Neil LaBute is an absurdly prolific playwright and frankly, that's been one of his biggest problems. He started out off-Broadway back in 1999 with a bang (or a Bash as it were) and ever since then, theatergoers have been treated to his black-as-tar take on a variety of disturbingly dysfunctional relationships--both romantic and platonic--that leave audiences feeling despondent about (in)human nature. Some of these tales of emotional detachment and moral bankruptcy (Fat Pig, The Shape of Things ) have been more rewarding than others (Some Girl(s), Mercy Seat), but they have all featured LaBute's signature twist endings that usually leave at least one character completely destroyed.

However these last-minute "surprises" began hijacking LaBute's work, which often seemed to exist solely to prove his cleverness, plausibility be damned. Not so with In a Dark Dark House, his latest entry in his exhaustive cycle chronicling contemporary bad behavior. Manipulative lawyer Drew (Ron Livingston, best recognized as Berger, the cad who dumped Sarah Jessica Parker via a Post-it note on Sex and the City) invites his volatile blue-collar brother Terry (the scary-as-usual Frederick Weller, a LaBute veteran) to the upscale mental institution where he's ostensibly trying to work out his problems. Drew wants Terry to confirm an episode of sexual abuse perpetrated by a family friend long ago, and insists that talking about the incident will help him heal. Those familiar with LaBute's work will know right away that nothing is as straightforward as it seems, and Drew's supposed revelation sends Terry on a dark journey, not of self-discovery but of vengeance.

Giving away more would spoil the "fun." Suffice to say that on the road, Terry meets Jennifer (Louisa Krause), a Lolita-type teen and the two engage in adolescent verbal foreplay on a mini-golf course. And in the final scene, the brothers confront--and almost comfort--each other about their perverse past. The thing that sets this play apart from LaBute's lesser work is that you care about the characters--against your better judgment of course. So when the final sad epiphanies come, they hit you on an emotional level, instead of an intellectual one.


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