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Off Broadway

LaBute New Theater Festival: Light When We Wanted Darker

LaBute New Theater Festival: Light When We Wanted Darker

Neil Labute

There are two reasons to attend the four short play evening being referred to as the LaBute New Theater Festival. One is a play, the other is a performer.

What Happens in Vegas

The first reason is also the first play, What Happens in Vegas. Written by Neil LaBute, it is by far the strongest in style and playfulness. It has a professional edge to the dialogue that the other three one acts lack. The play begins with a couple in the middle of copulation silhouetted by soft lights in a bedroom. What develops after between the two fine actors (Michael Hogan and Clea Alsip) is smart, funny, and surprising, with a refreshing twist to bring it to a close. Its substance is light and simple, and not as dark as I guess I was hoping for, but a sexy pleasure nonetheless.

American Outlaws

The second, American Outlaws by Adam Seidel, also tries to surprise us with a twist and a jolt, but the writing is not as fluid or believable. Too many times the two actors Justin Ivan Brown and Eric Dean White had to sprout lines that felt false and pedestrian, when the play was going for menace and a thrill. The two give it a good try but the messy format did them no favors. A triangle involving a hit-man, a shady accountant, and his wife is made more complex than need be (did we really need that complicated scene change?) by director John Pierson and the design team (Patrick Huber: set design; Jonathan Zelezniak: lighting design; Carla Evans: costume and prop design). The lack of a clear and deeply engaging focus made it difficult to invest in the plot or the final blow. For a short play, it felt too long.


The third, Homebody by Gabe McKinley and directed by John Pierson begins with characters that were irritating to be in the room with. An angry bad tempered son and flailing writer (Michael Hogan, who was much more on-point in the first play) is forced to live at home with his passive aggressive mother (Donna Weinsting), who at times is supportive but also, prone to attacking with a bat of an eye. The dialogue is repetitive and the mood swings difficult to swallow, but there is a kernel of intrigue mashed down somewhere in the piece. Some work to bring it out and a bit more nuance in the relationship would greatly improve the flow and foster our engagement. The surprise twist is not so surprising, too blatant in its foreshadowing, nor is the dynamic backed up by a realistic stance.

Mark My Worms

The final piece, a humorous skit of a play, does bring back the second reason to see this festival lineup. Clea Alsip literally walks in and saves us from the impending monotony of a one note joke being delivered farcically and a bit too over the top by Brown. White also seems to be a bit adrift; at a loss of what to do to raise it above the ridiculous. There’s an element of wicked fun skewing the PhD-driven rhetoric of the absurd that helps Alsip become crucial, but it’s also her investment in the details that make them ring true. She slaps the piece together, as she did in the LaBute play with another fully invested performance. She turns Mark My Worms, by Cary Pepper and directed by Michael Hogan into a much funnier piece than it deserves to be.

The four plays are all a bit too light in substance to make this a fulfilling night of one acts, but a cast that works hard to elevate the individual pieces doesn’t hurt. It’s a wonderful thing that LaBute is lending his name and talents to foster new work, I just wish they all could manage to rise to the same level of the namesake’s play, but at least Aslip is there in the finale to bring it back home with a smile.

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Off Broadway

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to

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