The oeuvre of film director, screenwriter and playwright Neil LaBute is not pretty. With the exception of Possession, LaBute’s films starkly represent the ugliest in male and female social behaviour and bite the head off bourgeois morality. In The Company Of Men, Your Friends And Neighbours and even Nurse Betty featured abominably cruel male characters, while his play (and soon-to-be-released film) The Shape Of Things starred the most callous female lead since Lady Macbeth. (The STC production closes on 16 March and is highly recommended, especially for that ending.)
It’s heady stuff. LaBute’s Bash (subtitled Latterday Plays) is in fine company, not least because one of the three short plays, A Gaggle Of Saints, concerns a group of Mormon friends who participate in a brutal gay bashing.
Actor Brett Stiller, currently rehearsing the Glen Street premiere, finds this aspect particularly uncomfortable.
I read it and initially went yeah, the writing is so brilliant that you kind of assume it will be easy kind of jumping into it, but all three of us are having trouble getting our head around what we’re doing, Stiller said, who stars alongside Anita Hegh. Anita and I have a bit of a cigarette out the back of the rehearsal room, after every piece. It is tough.
The other two works are just as troubling. In Iphigenia In Orem, a Mormon businessman relates the story of his daughter’s suspicious cot death. In Medea Redux, a Mormon woman tells of her seduction and impregnation at 13 by a schoolteacher and the horrifying consequences.
If you think the Church of Latterday Saints might have issues with LaBute for his work, you’d be right, especially because LaBute converted to Mormonism while at university. It was Bash that led LaBute to be disfellowshipped from the Church, which is only one step away from excommunication.
In an interview with Black + White magazine, LaBute said he wanted to present characters who are good people who when faced with a difficult choice still do the wrong thing, adding, Mormonism doesn’t protect you.
Stiller agrees that the play isn’t about Mormon-bashing. I don’t think it’s so much a criticism of the Mormon church as it is of American culture, if that makes sense. Mormonism is a very American religion and I think [LaBute has] used that to take a punt at American culture, and again A Gaggle Of Saints, it’s very much about American youth.
LaBute made changes to Bash to make the plays less about the Mormon church, consistent with his statements that the play and all of his work are meant to be universal. The altered version, which will be presented at Glen Street, still contains plenty of obvious references to Mormonism.
It’s a riveting read and should make for great theatre. The dialogue is keenly focused, recognisable and sparkling even when the subject matter is unthinkable. Bash is a little American classic, with buckets to say about human responsibility and the dangers of middle-class complacency, but without a moral ending in sight.
Bash runs from 4 to 22 March at the Glen Street Theatre, Belrose. Tickets range from $34 to $47 and may be booked from 9975 1455 or at www.glenstreet.com.au.