The moment in Some Girl(s) wherein the drama first gives away something of its intentions comes early: At the end of a hotel-room interview with the high school beau who dumped her more than decade earlier, a woman slaps a man with the feeble, constrained strike of someone who isn’t accustomed to raising her voice, much less her fist. After she flees, the man touches his cheek in amazement, then allows a wolfish smile to unfurl across his face.
Yep, this is a Neil LaBute play.
The prolific vivisectionist of emotional cruelty is once again poking the bloody viscera beneath the skin of romantic relationships, even if this five-year-old effort isn’t as jagged with malevolence as prior LaButian beatdowns like the play Fat Pig or the film In the Company of Men or the play-and-film The Shape of Things. This compelling production comes from a new company, No Rules. Director Joshua Morgan and a cast led by Brian Sutow (the pair are the startup’s co-artistic directors) have limned enough humor and revelation from the material to whet our appetite for whatever they do next.
Like Nick Hornby’s popular novel High Fidelity, Some Girl(s) follows a youngish cad on a tour of the casualty ward of his exes. Though his ostensible purpose is to make amends before his marriage, the first of his appointments (mousy Clementine Thomas) has barely removed her coat and started panting at him before we get that he’s a scab-picker and probably worse. Later, he tells Bobbi (Emily Simonness), a more recent former lover, “This is all just part of the honesty thing I’m working on,” as though asking a waiter to leave the mayo off his sandwich.
That Some Girl(s) is more casual and human scale in its brutality makes it feel more credible than LaBute’s earlier, more sensationalistic fare, though it’s just as merciless. (LaBute dedicated the script to the filmmaker and writer Eric Rohmer, who died in January, and whose unjudgmental minimalism seems a world removed from LaBute’s disgust with his own characters.)
Sutow, however, seems miscast as a guy — name of Guy — no lady can resist, perhaps because we never see a trace of how he ever made these women feel special in the first place. One of the show’s pleasures is in the variety in temperament, appearance, age, and profession of his paramours emeritus. (But they all read the New Yorker, or at least Guy’s story, “The Calculus of Desire,” somehow. He probably sent it to them to make sure!)
We meet them one at time, in variations on the same identical hotel room. After each encounter, the other girlfriends double as the hotel cleaning staff to handle scene changes, a deft touch. We all enter a hotel room the way we enter a new relationship — eager to embrace the illusion we’re the first person who ever tried to feel at home there.
Some Girl(s) is at the H Street Playhouse through March 21. Performance time is approximately two hours including one intermission. Tickets are $25/$15 student rush and are available here or at (866) 811-4111. Ticket sales at the door are cash-only.
This review appears in today’s Examiner.