Neil LaBute, perhaps best known for his play-turned-film The Shape of Things, is equally as observant and surprising in his 1999 Bash: Latterday Plays currently showing in Studio 2 at Trafalgar Studios. LaBute’s conflicted attitude towards Mormon religion informs the stories of four individuals in three separate one-act plays. As a former Mormon, he has some interesting observations about the sometimes perverse nature of religion.
The trio of tales are essentially embellished confessions in which the storyteller needs to orally interact with and divulge information of their crime. By verbal admittance, it is possible that a sense of catharsis may be achieved. For these characters however, there seems to be no relief from their anguish. The stories are delivered in a conversational style almost designed to side-step the travesty – the tragedy of it all sneaks up on you.
The intimate downstairs studio is a great space to host Jonathan O’Boyle’s production; the 100-seat theatre allows actors to truly engage with those in attendance, and for the most part they excel in this brief and develop a close relationship with the audience. Philip Scott-Wallace, who opens the show in Iphigenia In Orem, plants his story straight and centre. He targets one person whilst actively engaging others with head turns and gestures. This works exceedingly well in drawing in the audience – it is not an easy feat to keep an audience engaged for half an hour with a lone actor on stage.
The couple in the second slot are the most rhythmic, comedic and precise. Tom Vallen energetically and unapologetically spills his secrets about a night long ago that he shared with his girlfriend of six years (the lovely Dani Harrison) and some college buddies of theirs. His callousness is temporarily masked by his playful and youthful delivery and Vallen successfully navigates the violent tale with an air of naivety that creates a complex picture of an identity crisis that a lesser actor would have stumbled over. The ring he gives his future bride belonged to the man whom he left for dead in a public bathroom, acting as a talisman for his victory over outward displays of homosexuality. Having his partner naively wear the ring is perhaps his cruellest gesture, as ultimately it is his way of having a physical reminder of his repressed sexual desires.
Media Redux marks the final act of the night, staring Rebecca Hickey who is radiant in her darkness. Her American accent is spot-on and she propels the audience into the bleak world of a wronged teenager who grows up with a heavy feeling of neglect and abandonment.
The set, designed by Sarah McCann, features a throng of chairs sprawled across the stage, as if sinking into blackness: they have been cut at angles to appear as if they are being engulfed by the floor. McCann’s interpretation of the action emerges as a physical representation of burden. Whether guilt, self-deceit or religion itself is the pulling force, one cannot be sure – perhaps a combination of all three.
The Bash: Latterday Plays are a showcase of exciting acting talent and Boyle should be commended for his strong direction.
Bash: Latterday Plays is playing at Trafalgar Studios until 7 June. For more information and tickets, see the ATG Tickets website.
Photo by Darren Bell.