Ugh, Neil LaBute, ugh. He’s often described as “edgy” or “controversial,” and as is often true with other artists described in those terms, that translates to “nasty” and “boring.” I didn’t intend to take on the American premiere of his latest, In a Forest, Dark and Deep, but I didn’t read my editor’s schedule closely enough and found myself reviewing it last Thursday. (I should add that I did my best to go in with an open mind and see this production for what it was, rather than what I expected it to be.) There’s no question that LaBute can write decent dialogue and quickly take an audience to new depths of discomfort, and that’s a talent. But to do so without once writing a convincing female character is hackish. And to claim that you want to explore issues of truth and intimacy in your play, but then making your play clearly take sides and pass moral judgments, is dishonest.
Here’s an excerpt from my play review:
Cox is wonderful as a man who knows his place in the world and likes to opine on how others should live in it. Lowe is good too, but she has much less to work with, and there’s the crux of the problem. Betty is an incoherent character, a cheap assemblage of all the things men hate women for supposedly being: snobbish, slutty, unfaithful, bitchy, ambitious.
You can read the rest of the review here. I’m in the minority here in the theater world; LaBute is still quite the popular figure. Chris Jones loves him (although I think Jones and I have had opposite reactions to every single play we’ve both happened to review, so that’s not too surprising).
It’s too bad Profiles is so enamored of LaBute as to make him a resident playwright, because they have a talented group of people working there who could spend their time on plays that explore the breadth and depth of the human condition rather than LaBute’s sour misanthropy disguised as controversial profundity.