It’s Neil LaBute’s birthday next week, so it seems fitting that relative newcomers No Rules Theatre Co. are performing his play Some Girl(s) now through March 21st. Many have called him a psychologist of the dark side of the human soul, others a misogynist (personally, I think he’s an equal opportunity misanthrope). LaBute was responsible for one of my favorite films, Your Friends and Neighbors, scenes of which still sting sharp in my mind. Fellow WLDC author Don and I ventured out to H Street Playhouse convinced we would be at each other’s throats at the end of the play, in fitting tribute to LaBute with a raucous “He Said, She Said” review.
Our bottom line? This is a tight production featuring great performances, guaranteed to cause debate afterwards. The play’s age is showing, and a key character seems miscast, but that shouldn’t stop you from heading out to H Street and laughing cruelly as LaBute holds the mirror up to our blighted interpersonal relationships. It seems a pretty simple plot – watch as a man revisits his most memorable flings and exes before his impending marriage. Fun times! Who hasn’t wanted to gloat a little over the ones you left behind? But it’s not that simple, of course.
Don: I felt pretty certain I was going to like Some Girl(s) within a few minutes of Clementine Thomas’ entrance as Sam, the main character’s high school ex. She so perfectly wore the movements and facial expressions of someone feeling and thinking much more than she was saying that I thought to myself “a production that casts this person and gets this performance? I’m betting on good.”
Jenn: The best thing about this production is the acting of the four female leads, without a doubt. I may not completely buy the stereotypes LaBute rubber stamps here (from the pot-smoking wild child to the hot older professor, really? has every guy tried every flavor?) but they are beautifully etched by an ensemble cast. Moments are perfectly paced and tightly directed by Joshua Morgan.
Don: Sure enough, I got to the end of Some Girl(s) happy to have seen it. No Rules Theatre Co. follows up their positive buzz from last year over their production of Hedwig with an admirable sophomore effort. They make nice use of the H Street Playhouse space, which is a small achievement in itself. It’s a big, dark low-ceiling (as theaters go) space without a raised stage that can yield some really ugly sound and appearance, but the set and lighting are attractive and I’ve been in million-dollar theaters where I didn’t hear the dialogue as crisply as I did there.
That’s not to say it’s a perfect production. While Jenn had a more negative reaction to the casting of Brian Sutow in the lead, I similarly questioned that the man who looks and acts like this would be such a lightning rod for female passion. I’m willing to suspend disbelief and accept that the somewhat awkward and average-looking fellow can attract lots of women – certainly I tried to convince myself of that idea through all my single years – but the combination of looks, how he plays the character, and occasionally casual meanness didn’t quite jibe for me.
Jenn: Co-Artistic Director Brian Sutow plays Guy, whose exploration of his past women forms the basic plot. Sutow is a fine actor but personally I kept longing for a different physical type. For me the perfect LaBute man is Jason Patric, a blank muscular psychopath exuding emotional unavailability. My reason isn’t eye candy, seriously. The character of Guy, a writer sifting through his life in an attempt to find the next hot story, needs to be believable as an “emotional terrorist,” as he’s described. We have to believe he’s the sort of man that a woman would be enthralled enough to remember after years, would still throw herself at him after rejection, would come to a strange hotel room, etc.
I just don’t see it here, where he comes across as a rather petulant and callow narcissist, more in the Ben Stiller vein. It works nicely at the end when he’s unmasked but left me bemused in other scenes. When he battled against his character’s match in narcissism, the brilliantly cold Lindsay played by Lisa Hodsoll as iron-clad as her abs, it just didn’t ring true that she would’ve risked her reputation for a fling with him.
Don: It’s less of an issue for me than LaBute’s script, which I didn’t think really delivered in the final act. When we discussed it after the fact, Jenn and I discovered that a pivotal reveal made us each certain we’d hit the secret truth of the play… and we were both wrong about where we thought it was going. Instead it was more banal, which might have been fine if the play and the players had earned it. Instead I ended up with a bit of a “well, so?” kind of reaction to the thread that supposedly tied it all together.
Honestly though, I didn’t much care. If you forced me to pick a favorite out of the four female performances I could use the highly respected EMMM randomization algorithm and be perfectly happy with any of the results. Every one of them brings something excellent. Thomas’ command of the silent moments, Morgan Reis’ slightly hurt wild child, Lisa Hodsoll’s steel hand in a velvet glove, Emily Simoness’ sharp anger… all good performances and enough reason to see the show by themselves.
Jenn: LaBute wrote the play in 2005, and though it’s only been five years, it’s already seeming a bit dated. Guy’s whole ruse is to get material for a piece in Esquire (whose name he intones like it’s the gold standard), the women are impressed with his being published in the New Yorker, and he’s supposedly in his late twenties. The relevancy of such markers are being cast aside. Would the Guys of this world actually care? Wouldn’t they rather have blogs to publish their escapades and philosophies in? Of course, and they already do.
Despite this, there are some sadly truthful moments in the play, capably pulled forward by director Joshua Morgan. When Morgan Reis quietly states, “it’s never easy being second,” she speaks for all who know they are just placeholders until something better comes along. It’s a delicate glimpse of deeper layers in her turn as the free-spirited, sexually voracious Tyler. Equally multi-dimensional is Emily Simoness as Bobbi, the past love still completely out of Guy’s league.
Don: While I’d have liked to have seen more locals in the cast, I can’t argue with the end result. I’m looking forward to seeing what No Rules does next.
Jenn: Agreed. This is a young and exciting company finding a home here in DC. And any play that makes an audience laugh in both shock and sympathy is a great night out!
Some Girl(s) by Neil LaBute
No Rules Theatre Co. at the H Street Playhouse
1365 H Street Northeast
Washington, DC 20002
Tickets online or 866.811.4111