Few playwrights capture male narcissism as accurately or as unsparingly as Neil LaBute.
Self-obsessed men, of course, come in different packages, but LaBute seems particularly familiar with smart, verbose, ego-maniacal denizens of the academic literary world tormented by their own ethically dubious blunders.
That’s what we get with Guy, the central character in LaBute’s “Some Girl(s)”, now on stage at the Living Room. Intelligent performances capture the harsh humor and emotional volatility of LaBute’s play in a production directed by Rusty Sneary, the Living Room’s artistic director, and starring the company’s associate artistic director, Bryan Moses.
Guy, a writer who seems poised for literary success after having a semi-confessional short story published in The New Yorker, is about to be married. But before he says “I do” he embarks on a cross-country journey to “right some wrongs” with ex-lovers.
The play unfolds in five hotel rooms in different cities as Guy seeks to resolve — at least in his own mind — acts of cruelty and cowardice in relationships that ended badly at worst and elliptically at best. What he learns is that some wrongs can’t be righted. They simply are.
Sam (Mackenzie Goodwin), a married mom, is a former high-school sweetheart Guy dropped because, he claims, he was frightened by the prospect of settling down into a middle-class life — but in reality found someone he liked better. Tyler (Amy Kelly) is sexually uninhibited and forgiving but acutely aware that he was in love with someone else the entire time they were together.
Lindsey (Melinda McCrary) is a married academic with whom he carried on a clandestine affair and now wants emotional retribution. Bobbi (Kate O’Neill) is the woman he ultimately decides was The One, but only after irreparable damage has been done.
And Reggie (Missy Fennewald) is an old family friend whose life was changed permanently after a fleeting erotic encounter with him when she was 12 and he was 17.
Only one of these characters, Sam, responds by doing what we’d all like to do through most of the play. She slaps him silly. LaBute excels at writing characters whose neuroses are simply maddening, and that certainly describes Guy. Moses delivers a smart, precise performance. He creates a sort of behavioral façade for Guy — puppy-dog shrugs, suppliant hand gestures and lots of annoying air quotes as he speaks. But it all gets chipped away as the play progresses. Ultimately he’s a sad figure who is fundamentally incapable of being honest.
As Sam, Goodwin seems ill at ease in the early going, but as the character’s anger rises the performance acquires power and focus. Kelly nails the expectations-free Tyler, a character defined by her relaxed good humor
The show doesn’t really catch fire until McCrary’s appearance as Lindsey. The actress rivets our attention with the character’s controlled rage and an evident conviction that revenge is a dish best served cold. O’Neill lights up the stage as Bobbi, the “true love” Guy walked away from.
Fennewald caps the show as Reggie, the former family friend who holds Guy’s feet to the fire about the “innocent” kiss they shared when she was just a kid. Fennewald gives us an affecting performance, heartfelt and poignant.
Ultimately it’s difficult to see Guy as anything more than a user and a loser. The “wrong” he seeks to right is the same in every case: He bailed on the relationship. So, no, he’s not somebody we can warm up to. But much of LaBute’s writing is so crisp, so psychologically true, that he keeps us in the game.
Gary Mosby’s simple but effective scenic design allows each hotel room to be reconfigured quickly and efficiently. John “Moose’ Kimball’s lighting meets the show’s basic requirements. No costume designer is credited, leaving us to assume that the actors provided clothes from their own closets.
LaBute is a favored playwright at the Living Room, so don’t be surprised if you see more of his work there down the road. That would only be a good thing, considering how seldom his plays are produced in Kansas City.