By Tulis McCall
There are times when Neil LaBute gets to me and times when he does not.
With How We Get By at Second Stage Theatre LaBute rang the bell on this one.
Doug (Thomas Sadoski) and Beth (Amanda Seyfried) are in post coital sturm and drang. Their decision to sleep together after they see each other once again at a wedding reception seemed like a good idea at the time. And there are remnants of that good idea still present in the wee small hours of the morning, but this ship is on seriously shakey ground.
This is one of those reviews where it is difficult to tell the who-what-when-where and WHY without doing a major spoiler alert. Let’s just say that if you dig under the unique set of circumstances in which Beth and Doug find themselves you will come to the bedrock of this piece. In that bedrock, Labute stakes out his claim to the singular and universal dilemma. When is it right to throw caution to the wind and leap off the edge of reality into what might be? How do you know if that person standing in front of you will not let go? What is worth that risk?
Doug and Beth have been carrying around not only mucho baggage, but torches of enormous proportion for one another. Last night their physical desire overwrote their logic, if that is what a person could call it, and they satisfied themselves in every way. Now they are waiting for dawn to come up and for light to be shown on the subject. Some very, very serious light.
Like most LaBute tales this one starts out with jagged incomplete sentences that at first hang in the air like soggy bits of laundry. Once these two actors let go of the punctuation, however, they set sail with fireworks. Doug is the first to open the door to the kind of logic that says What ARE we doing here? Beth responds in Spades. The stakes, without having to be explained, are laid out by LaBute like morsels of a gourmet feast set down to lead us from one point to the next. While the characters stall out over and over, the story never does. These two dare, prod, and cajole one another to keep going. Don’t drop the ball. Please stay with me. I am here. You can hear them saying what they are not saying. The facts of their tale spin out. Beth and Doug’s passion for connection gets stronger and stronger.
As in other LaBute stories, these characters arrive fully formed and ready for full frontal heart to heart combat. Over the course of 80 or so minutes that fly by, LaBute turns up the temperature incrementally. He gives his characters time to listen, parry, act and react. He gives us time to be drawn into the basement of their story – which is where we want to be.
Leigh Silverman pulls the walls of life close in on Beth and Doug. They become sort of caged animals pacing inside her tiny apartment. Either could leave at any time. The door is open, it is clear. But that door leads to a life of getting by. These two know that life. It is killing them. So for these two people to stay in the room, to stay inside their own selves, to stay in connection with the other person who is pretty much tossing life as it was previously know right out the window – THIS is a a big deal. This is a risk and a sacrifice worth the bother.
And it is totally worth the watch. Bravo. Drinks on me.
The Way We Get By – by Neil LaBute, Directed by Leigh Silverman