nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
September 4, 2009
Sometimes when I hear the reason why someone committed a terrible crime I feel much less compelled by the story. It's the crimes that seemingly have no reason that really stir my sense of morality. It's a lot harder to judge someone when you don't know why they did something and you are forced to look at them as an average person...someone who could be your friend or someone just like you. And that is a truly disturbing thought when you know what they did. Neil LaBute is a master of stirring moral issues in a cauldron of everyday life and his comparatively raw 1999 play bash certainly stirs things up. I had never seen this play performed so I feel very fortunate to have my first performance of it be so brilliantly done.
bash is three short stories told in monologue. Each has at its center an immoral crime that the speaker is confessing for one reason or another. The kicker here is that the crimes are all based on actual crimes committed by real people. The first, Medea Redux, is about a young woman who seems to be confessing to the police. She tells her whole story from the very beginning all the way up to the spine-chilling moments just after her crime. The next story, Iphigenia in Orem, is about a family man who is talking to a stranger about his crime because he just has to get it off his chest. In this one he doesn't even admit to his crime at first but he eventually cops to it. The final story, A Gaggle of Saints, is told by an out-of-touch young couple from Massachusetts who come to New York for a party and leave with a story to tell—only they don't tell the same story.
LaBute's writing here is brilliant. His characters are rich and remorseless; deep and yet so single-minded. The monologues are textured with pain and love, innocence and hatred, humor and crisis. They are also very well-structured. The first one unfolds like a bizarre, if not forbidden, love story and climaxes with such naive self-righteousness. The second story twists and turns and folds in on itself until it finds a place where it can feel good about itself. The final one begins as two people telling the same story, but it soon diverges into the truth of what happened and layers upon layers of lies. What I really like about this play is that LaBute doesn't exploit these crimes—he doesn't sensationalize them—nor does he judge them, he simply tells these stories without forcing morality into them. He knows that his audience will bring their own morality and cast their judgments. Director Robert Knopf does a find job with his vision for this show. He sets a captivating pace and sets complementary emotions and thoughts next to one another to create an honest production of a challenging play.
The cast is fantastic. I was especially blown away by Chelsea Lagos in the first piece. She absolutely owns this monologue. Her performance is layered and nuanced. She finds moments for deep, deep reflection and bumps them into moments of utter indifference and even casual throwaway thoughts. Luke Rosen is just as impressive in the second and third pieces. As the family man he finds the everyman character that makes his crime so much more disturbing. I had trouble believing that he was really a parent but his honesty really got to me. In the final piece he transforms into a completely different person and really brings the intensity and the underlying confusion of the character to life.
David Mamet once said, and I paraphrase here, that "the audience is collectively a lot smarter than I am." It seems LaBute understands this. He doesn't judge his characters, he doesn't tell us why they do what they do, he knows that we'll impose all that ourselves. I would suggest that you check out this excellent production of bash and judge for yourself.