Neil LaBute trilogy (Citizens Theatre)


Lauren Martin

Set in New York City in a post-9/11 world, three couples are tormented by events that ultimately destroy their relationships.  The stage is simple and claustrophobic, allowing the starkness of these private moments to be laid out bare for the shock and discomfort of the audience. The Furies tells of a gay couple, Jimmy and Barry, struggling to mend their relationship after an argument, but reconciliation is interrupted by the presence of Jimmy’s sister Jamie and the revelation of Barry’s looming death.  Jimmy’s stereotypical gay mannerisms and camp demeanour sit rather uncomfortably against Barry’s more subtle approach to the portrayal of his sexuality, with Jimmy unfortunately reminiscent of Jack from Will & Grace.

However, The Furies is more concerned with communication than sexuality. Jamie is a welcome comic presence, who sits silently sneering at Barry with brilliant contempt for the conversation. As she furiously whispers into Jimmy’s ear throughout the scene, her silent influence makes their reconciliation impossible.

Her final vitriolic outburst is both commanding and amusing, but it feels as if her screams of impending revenge are unnecessary given how well her facial expressions convey her thoughts.

Land of the Dead is a more subtle work, in which a couple retells the day of the woman’s abortion. The couple stand side by side facing the audience, though they feel worlds apart. Their monologues become intercut when retelling the fateful day, and emotions run high as their narratives run closer together and struggle to distinguish themselves, particularly when she retells the physical abortion and he discusses the diner breakfast he ate at the same moment.

The woman, played by Frances Grey, is by far the stand out turn of the triple bill. Her quasi-apologetic manner attempts to stop her emotional damage being laid bare, ironically like a long-suffering mother figure, and in trying to downplay her ordeal she portrays a woman fraying at the edges; grasping at what little composure and peace of mind she has left. Her boyfriend is a typical American alpha male figure who mocks her suffering. His forced New York accent however is horrific, and makes it difficult for any sense of authenticity to come across. When he retrospectively warms to the idea of being a father, it sits coldly against the rest of his monologue, marking him out as a figure of contempt. Although his insensitivity is shocking to the audience, it feels as if his jokes are meant to be thinly veiled coping mechanisms for his willing of the abortion, but the actor’s focus on the alpha male side of the role weighs in too heavily to make this feel plausible.

Helter Skelter is by far the most shocking of the trio. As a typical suburban couple shop for gifts, they hypocritically lament the commercialisation of Christmas and engage in unremarkable domestic dialogue. This is suddenly destroyed by the revelation of the man’s six-year affair with his wife’s sister, with an enormous, genuine gasp of shock from the audience rendering it all the more realistic.

Frances Grey portrays a woman broken by an event outwith her control, but retains a marvellous sense of gallows humour, even sarcastically pointing out her huge pregnant bump to emphasise her husband’s cruelty.

As he attempts to worm his way out of his guilt, her quiet disgust and constant stare cuts through his words wonderfully. In knowing this all occurs in an upmarket restaurant, Helter Skelter plays with the concept of a painful event occurring quietly in a banal, public place. Her final wish to break free, to “create history with a simple gesture”, culminates in her stabbing her swollen stomach. However shocked the audience is by this final gesture, the emphasis on realism in the triple bill is somewhat ruined by it, as the scene could easily have been carried in another, equally fruitful, direction through the dark comedy of her suffering.


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