Finally, I watched a play by Neil LaBute. I heard about this playwright about 3 years ago when his play, "Fat PIg" was doing the rounds in New York City. Since then, its been a long fight to get access to one of his plays, a movie based on his play or books on his plays; somehow all of these were either booked or checked out with a mile long list of people wanting to subscribe to it. But this week, I got my wish and watched his play at the Bush Theater.
The theater itself is quite special with a narrow staircase leading to a small room with an U- shaped seating arrangement. There were only 3 rows of seating and not more than 50 seats, making it an intimate performance. This play was a monologue, with smoking on stage! Now this was something I wasn't prepared for. Sure the ticket specified this as did the usher, but it was still unsettling when 5 minutes into the play the actor lit up. Nerd that I am I actually counted the number of smokes: he ran through 5 cigarettes in a 70 minute performance.
I dislike smoking and smokers, which is why I have spent better part of a afternoon understanding the smoking ban imposed by the Indian Government. So it was quite difficult weighing the decision to watch this play. I couldn't pass up the offer cause I didn't think Neil LaBute's racy plays would ever premiere in India so I had to take the chance. Surprisingly, the smoke didn't bother me at all. I had opted for a 3rd row seat to be as far away from the smoke but I think the actor must have used a brand that didn't permeate the room. It did get me thinking though - What if this actor didn't smoke, but had to, just to play a part? and this got me thinking about acting in general. As an actor you have to play parts and take on personalities that are far away from your personal beliefs so it must be a hard job. I also wonder if it is easier to play roles that are perceived to be socially or morally superior, like playing Gandhi or King of Siam vs doing roles of Gestapo agents or slave traders. Brr... I am just very happy that I have job where my personal beliefs are very well aligned to the work I do!
Coming back to the play. Wrecks was a story told by a very talented actor (Robert Glenister). It was played beautifully, the story told in conversation style with a very fine smoke ring thrown in to charm the audience. This was Labute play though, so I knew something bizarre was about to happen and it wasn't till the end of the play, as we clapped for an encore did it finally hit me. I don't want to reveal the spoiler but all I can say is that it was scripted so subtly and played so well that a big whopping aspect of the play didn't hit home till I left. This was a powerful new experience - a feeling of disbelief long after the moment has passed making you wonder if you really did hear it right. Luckily I went with a friend so I could confirm what I heard. In most plays the audience reacts: laughter for the comedy bits, sighs for the sad moments and strong gasps for the shocking bits. We had the laughter and the sighs but no gasps and it was particularly ironic since what was revealed wasn't acceptable by any moral standard.
What more can I say? Can't wait to see another LaBute production and would recommend the playwright to anyone who enjoys intense theater.