Saturday, August 11, 2007

Some Girl(s)

‘SOME GIRL(S),’ another Neil LaBute play at BANG AND CLATTER

Bang and Clatter, North Coast’s creative little theatre, is now staging Neil LaBute’s ‘SOME GIRL(S). LaBute is the red-hot playwright who penned such gems as ‘IN THE COMPANY OF MEN,’ which became a hit movie; ‘THE MERCY SEAT,’ which was one of the first major theatrical responses to the September 11, 2001 attacks; and ‘FAT PIG,’ which was given a compelling staging earlier this year by B&C.

LaBute, who is noted for writing “revenge plays,” in which women get even with a man who has wronged them, again skewers a man in ‘SOME GIRL(S).’

The story centers on Guy. We watch, well, kind of eavesdrop on him in various hotel rooms, as he revisits five major ex-girlfriends—as well as several others we don't see—prior to his forthcoming marriage. According to Guy, his motive for the visits is to apologize and make up for the breakups. In reality, he is acting out a much deeper psychological problem...his obsessive love ‘em/leave ‘em/feel no regrets way of life.

As the plot develops we start asking about Guy’s real intentions. Is he a “good guy” trying to make amends, or, is he a “bad guy” looking for new material for a tell-all story like the one he recently published, and with which some of the girls were not thrilled.

As is true of LaBute’s writing, each woman we meet has a highly individual language and personality. Eventually, true to LaBute’s theme, each repays Guy in her own way as reconciliation turns into retaliation, one with a slap, another through seduction, a third via guilt, a fourth via humiliation, and the fifth walking out when he expresses deep love for her.

The play opened for a professional run in 2005 in London with David Schwimmer of TV’s ‘FRIENDS’ playing the lead. When the show was transferred to NY in 2006, Schwimmer had another commitment so he was replaced by Eric McCormack of ‘WILL AND GRACE’ notoriety. The off-Broadway cast also included Fran Drescher (“THE NANNY’), Judy Reyes (‘SCRUBS’) and Maura Tierney (‘ER’). The play, in both productions, was a smash hit.

The Bang and Clatter production is quite acceptable, but not sterling. Its pace is too languid in many scenes, in fact most of the first act. Some of the tensions and laugh lines are lost due to the lack of keying of lines. The audience was forced to work too hard to grasp LaBute’s message and keep involved in the action.

Daniel McElhaney, though he tries hard, as can be witnessed by the cascades of sweat pouring down his face, isn’t totally up to the role of Guy. He does not have the charisma or physical appeal of Schwimmer nor the good looks or quirkiness of McCormick. It is rather difficult to believe that McElhaney was able to attract and bed all of these women. To be a “chick magnet” he needs to have some deep appeal, charisma and warmth. What is McElhaney’s? As for his acting, many of his lines, especially in the important ending of the play, seem undeveloped, without a concept of understanding nor clarity of meaning.

Sam (Margaret Morris), was Guy’s high school sweetheart whom he left with no explanation. She is now in an unfulfilling marriage and saddled with multiple children. Morris conveys an attitude of being properly angry, but much of her angst is displayed with contorted facial expressions that detract.

Tyler (Rachel Roberts) is a free spirit, nonintellectual and promiscuous. She and Guy enjoyed some kinky sex, and their breakup apparently suited her just as much as him, but she, too, makes him pay! Roberts physically fits the role of the beautiful Tyler, but seems a little uncomfortable with the demands of the part. This is the most talky scene, which seems to drag on and on.

Reggie (Lisa Siciliano) was twelve when eighteen year-old Guy kissed and inappropriately touched his best friend’s young sister. She was both confused and enthralled by the action. Johnson shows all the signs of someone in deep conflict, conveying the mood swings that are the results of the conflict between desire and guilt.

In Boston, where Guy was a college instructor, he had a clandestine adulterous affair with Lindsay (Laurel Johnson), an older colleague who was married to another academic. When their carryings-on were discovered, Guy fled and left her to face the humiliation alone. Johnson is excellent as the wronged Lindsay. She embodies the role and seems to have the clearest understanding of the whys of the revenge she plots.

Finally, in Los Angeles, there is Bobbi (Alanna Romansky), another who was loved and left. She may have been Guy’s real love, but he was unable to rid himself of his love ‘em but leave ‘em past. Romansky develops her role well and is generally believable.

Sean Derry’s set design and the set changes by the female members of the cast are quite clever. As Guy stays in hotels of the same chain, the rooms in which the encounters take place are marked by the same furniture, but through slight shifts of the scenery, they become superficial like Guy.

Capsule judgement: ‘SOME GIRL(S)’ is a thought provoking play with an interesting premise. Though acceptable, the production needed a leading man who more fit the physical and personality needs of the role, and who also understood the underlying motivations of the character. As is, it’s a show worth seeing, but is far from what it should be.