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Revisiting the ego of past relationships

Neil LaBute’s world is not a very happy one. It is a place where people treat each other shamelessly, revel—often unconsciou­sly—in complete self-absorption, and seldom leave any situation better than they found it. His characters are selfish, venal, and creepy in ways that one doesn’t often want to think about. And his plays are usually among the high points of any season in which they appear.

While LaBute immerses himself in the toxic minefield of contemporary relationships, his jaundiced perspective is dead on. Just ask anyone currently on the dating scene. LaBute is an adroit writer of dialogue, a keen observer of behavior, and I would mistrust the self-knowledge of anyone—gay, straight, or otherwise—who doesn’t see at least some of their less savory interpersonal behaviors in his characters’ actions. Whether it’s bailing on a relationship or simply disappearing from somebody’s life, many of us have done it, even if we’re not proud of it.

Of course, LaBute takes it to extremes; this is, after all, the theater. Yet anyone who has spent hours nursing wounds or consoling a friend about relationships gone bad in today’s world will find a certain kind of solace in knowing they’re not alone—and that it’s even possible to get a good belly laugh out of the experience.

“Some Girl(s),” LaBute’s newest play is arguably his best comic work to date, and MCC’s production is deliciously snarky. It’s the story of the abstractly named Guy, who goes on a cross-country odyssey to revisit four women with whom he’s had relationships over the past 20 years—on the eve of his own marriage to a woman about 10 years younger than he is. In each of four scenes set in four different hotel suites, he confronts and is confronted by the demons of his past. While Guy may be seeking solace and “closure,” he doesn’t find it. Instead of his fantasized memories, he gets four doses of reality. It could change a guy… maybe.

What works so well in this play is that LaBute has written distinct, balanced characters, and he keeps it light even while showing how two people never have the same experience in a relationship. His comedy is fresh, surprising, and contemporary, which is particularly delightful because LaBute has actually written something about modern relationships that feels new and original. Ironically—because it’s sequential scenes set in a hotel—it’s as if LaBute has written his own “Plaza Suite,” a Neil Simon chestnut; but LaBute is writing in acid, and has come up with the consummate comedy of (bad) manners for today.

Jo Bonney has directed with wonderful insight into the characters and has achieved a beautiful balance of energy among the four distinct women that Guy goes back to visit. Moreover, he’s made Guy attractive but damaged—and it all feels very real. Under Bonney’s direction, the characters simply embody the world, and it has a fluidity that is wonderful to watch.

Eric McCormack plays Guy, and he’s ideal for it. He’s attractive, but plays just nebbishy and awkward enough to be believable as the selfish and clueless Guy. We completely believe that he’s been going over and over in his mind how these four past relationships have affected his life—and his life only. When confronted with the reality of the other person in the relationship, he is often knocked off his center. McCormack does that beautifully with polished timing and subtlety that is always right on.

The women are terrific, too, and this is one LaBute play where the leading women get to have some—if not all—of the power. Whether Guy ever realizes that is unclear, which is hilarious. Brooke Smith plays Sam, Guy’s high school girlfriend. She is tough, but fragile, obviously still holding onto issues that Guy’s sudden appearance has reawakened. Smith is both vulnerable and powerful in the role. Judy Reyes is a fireball as Tyler, perhaps the only woman of the four who never took her relationship with Guy that seriously…or maybe she did. Reyes balances the presentational elements of Tyler with an understated sadness that’s remarkable. Fran Drescher is Lindsay, a college professor Guy had an affair with as a grad student. Drescher is sexy, in command, and wonderfully controlled, perfectly accenting Lindsay’s unique revenge. Maura Tierney is Bobbi, the woman Guy just abandoned for the girl he’s going to marry. Tierney’s performance is electric as she plays with Guy and ultimately calls him on his behavior; painful as it may be, she sees him as he is.

The wonderful set by Neil Patel lampoons the impersonal high design of the modern boutique hotel. It is the perfect environment for these characters—slick and good looking but not very substantive when it comes right down to it. The costumes by Mimi O’Donnell are dead on for each character, and David Weiner’s lighting is just right for this kind of cold environment where even the potential of sex seems disconnected and mechanical.

Unfortunately, this is a limited engagement, and tickets are hard to come by. This play is an intelligent, mature and incisive comedy that will give you lots to talk and think about. In fact, it’s the perfect date play—if you’re very secure.

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Updated 5:17 pm, July 20, 2018
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