Neil LaBute has always been – and perhaps will always be – one of my favorite playwrights. Perhaps that’s due to my work in The Shape of Things my freshman year of college – I probably wouldn’t’ve discovered him, otherwise. I’ve read all of his plays – though, interestingly, I’ve only seen Wrecks and another performance of The Shape of Things – and the release of new LaBute is an important thing to me. So, imagine my surprise when I discovered this new collection while wandering the Drama Book Shop the other day. His work has slowed a little in the last few years and I knew he’d done a fair amount of short stuff in London while things were rough with his relationship with MCC over here. Still, I’m excited about The Break of Noon this spring and so this was a bit like Christmas come early.
The collection has mostly short plays, with the exception of the titular piece – his first play. It really is a filthy piece of work, harsher and rougher than any of his later stuff. Five men and two women – waitresses at a topless bar – talking about love and sex and relationships. The most interesting thing is that the women don’t really get off scot-free – the men are awful but so are the women. Just in different ways. It was actually quite difficult to get through, just because it was a) clearly an inexperienced hand and b) it was just crass and crude and harsh and that gets tough after a while. LaBute’s work rarely seems, to me, like 50 grit sandpaper – it shouldn’t be so abrasive that you get hurt. It usually toes that line and just comes down on the side of making you feel a little uncomfortable but rarely are you out-and-out turned off.
The other pieces were interesting. I really liked the monologue he’d written for Michelle Terry (who, honestly, I loathe – but that’s a different issue) and the short scene “The New Testament” was a great one. The other pieces had interesting aspects and they were all very classically LaBute-ian… but also a bit stereotypically so. There wasn’t really anything revelatory, like the twist in The Shape of Things or The Mercy Seat – or even that sign of maturity in reasons to be pretty. It was just middle-of-the-road LaBute.
Rating: 3 out of 5. A solid collection, with some ups and downs. Interesting to see his earliest work and compare it to some of his most recent, all in the same book.