Neil LaBute, playwright, definitely irritating, whose works were once called “clinically contemptuous” by the New York Times, nevertheless is always good for a telling quote or two. “Everybody has the ability to be manipulative, to be hateful and deceitful,” he has said. On unrequited love: “It’s always a great thing.” On the human race: “We are a fairly barbarous bunch.”
There you have the background for his plays – and his films – dating back to the 1990s with “In the Company of Men,” “The Shape of Things,” “Filthy Talk for Troubled Times” and many others. Plus his adaptations of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” – he created a lesbian subplot for the Bard classic – and his emphasis on power and passion, sex and greed, in his take on August Strindberg’s “Miss Julie.” Some critics have labeled him a misogynist, others expanding that to all-out misanthropy, and he seems to have done his best to emulate one of his characters, the “emotional terrorist” Guy, from one of his minor but paradoxically popular plays, “Some Girl(s).”
“Girl(s),” LaBute at his best or worst, is now in extraordinary revival at The New Phoenix Theatre, produced there by the fledgling acting troupe, Second Generation Theatre (SGT). Steve Copps directs a nonpareil cast: Adriano Gatto, Meghan McAdam Gomez, Sophia Howes, Diane DiBernardo-Blenk and SGT co-founder Kristin Bentley.
Briefly, the complex tale: Thirty-ish Guy, a published writer of fiction, is getting married. He’s slept around the country, promised the moon to many a girl in several states, then crept out at dawn, never looking back or calling to explain or apologize. The women are his high school sweetheart Sam, his college lit professor Lindsay, casual sex partner Tyler and the wise, no-nonsense Bobbi. Guy goes on a Farewell Tour, of sorts, to “right wrongs” and actually tell all, “I’m sorry.” Yeah, right.
Needless to say, the still self-centered Guy has ulterior motives and each assignation ends badly, the girls incredulous at his return and there is payback in word and deed. Snake Guy surfaces in late play, no surprise. Director Copps, in his notes, infers that learning from one’s mistakes and closure are the messages here. That’s not LaBute’s style.
SGT’s “Some Girl(s)” is superb. Loraine O’Donnell’s motel-room set looks authentic. The acting is second-to-none. Gatto is amazing, a faultless interpreter of LaBute’s rhythmic, trenchant, David Mamet-like language ebb and flow. And the quartet of actresses, real-world perfect, sages, each have their riveting moments. The 90-minute story flies by; this is acute work by first-time director Copps.
Yet … a caveat. I don’t know if playwright LaBute or the SGT minds suggested this, but the first words heard in this production come from a song, the Oscar Levant/Ed Heyman jazz classic, “Blame It On My Youth.” Great lyrics: “If I cried a little bit when first I heard the truth/Don’t blame it on my heart, blame it on my youth.”
Meeting protagonist Guy a few minutes later and following him through his despicable, self-serving cross-country trek, that beautiful lament turns out to be the wrong message to begin this otherwise extremely laudable “Some Girl(s).”
What: “Some Girl(s)”
Where: Second Generation Theatre at the New Phoenix, 95 Johnson Park
When: Through Feb. 16
Info: 864-0938, www.secondgenerationtheatre.com.