Playwright and filmmaker Neil LaBute is a dark guy. There’s a good chance his work will leave an audience angry and on edge. He takes a look at the underbelly of humanity and addresses the terrible that lurks in the mundane and under the facade of normalcy. All this makes a LaBute play a perfect candidate for M&D Productions.
LaBute’s “Bash,” a collection of three one-acts, opened last night in M&D’s summer location, the old shoe factory next to Curves in Fryeburg, Maine, and is running July 18-19 and July 24-26.
“It is a show I liked on many levels,” said managing director Mark DeLancey. “It was very interestingly written. I thought it was a beautiful piece that was easy to orchestrate and easy to technically produce and still pack the punch and pack the wallop that M&D’s mission was known for.”
The three pieces focus on seemingly harmless people, who happen to be Mormon but are capable of terrible things. In “Medea Redux,” a woman tells of her complex and ultimately tragic relationship with her junior high school English teacher; in “Iphigenia in Orem,” a Utah businessperson makes a confession to a stranger in a Las Vegas hotel room; and in “A Gaggle of Saints,” a young couple separately recounts the violent events of an anniversary weekend in New York City.
Like LaBute’s other work, which includes the films “In The Company of Men,” “Your Friends and Neighbors” and “The Shape of Things,” “Bash” takes the everyday people that we as a society think we know and trust — co-workers, family, friends, and neighbors — and challenges our perception of them and ourselves.
“He [LaBute] makes you so angry at these people, and yet you know them,” said director Clayton Philips, the former artistic director of Barnstormers. “You feel like you know these people and you can’t understand why they do the things they do and they somehow justify it.”
For Philips, how people justify their actions, no matter how terrible, through faith, is the over-arching theme that links the three one-act plays.
“There’s a lot in this piece about people’s acceptance and people taking responsibility for the things they do,” said Philips. “Frequently in the world we can look to a higher power or fate or other things to justify our behaviors, and, in this particularly piece, quite frequently people find justification in things that are beyond them.”
“Bash” is not an easy play to watch because it does make its audience work. There are two different poles of theater and the middle ground where they bleed together. There is the light and fluffy show that is meant to purely entertain, and then there’s the show that sets out to challenge audience members and make them think. “Bash” is definitely in the latter category.
“It pushes your envelope and not just morality as a subject to talk about, but your own morality compared to other people’s moralities,” said Delancey. “He [LaBute] really sucks you in with the writing by making you feel these are common everyday people that you can relate to on whatever manner you want to relate to them on, and then he turns it around so you see something obviously immoral happen. But then your mind goes to the place, 'Well, wait a minute this person was fine a minute ago, but now there’s something wrong with them, how am I suppose to react to this?'"
It’s LaBute sharp ear for naturalistic dialogue that becomes the audience’s entry point for subject matters that if addressed in a less realistic approach would feel ham-fisted or contrived.
“Quite frequently I can sit here listening to it and I feel like they’re making up the words, that’s how well it is written,” said Philips. “It really is amazing.
Rarely can you find a writer that writes that naturally.”
The quality of the writing is something that has excited the actors in a way most productions they are involved in rarely do.
“I didn’t see or read the other two [acts] and then we met this week and I just watched it and I was like, ‘They’re all really good,’ ” said Brian Chamberlain, who appears in “Iphigenia in Orem.” “I e-mailed all my acting friends that I do other shows with in other places, and I usually don’t do that because a lot of shows I am in I don’t want them to see because they’re just crap, but they might pay.”
As an actor Chamberlain is thrilled to have the opportunity to explore a character that is richly written and with multiple facets.
“That’s why I love M&D, they do these shows that actors want to do,” said Chamberlain. “If I do my job right, they [audience members] are going to like me, then they are going to get mad at me, they are going to be scared by me, they are going to be sad for me. They are going to go through this whole gamut of emotions.”
Rae E. McCarey, who appears in “A Gaggle of Saints,” agrees with Chamberlain that being able to appear in “Bash” has been a wonderful experience that, as an actor, has forced her to discover and learn things she wouldn’t have otherwise.
“It is a privilege for me and I consider it an honor to be a part of this production,” said McCarey. “It is so different from anything I’ve ever done. It is the biggest challenge for me as an actor because it is dramatic and intense and so charged and it is difficult to separate yourself.”
But it is not only the actors who are excited about their work, but their director. Clayton has only high praise for their performances.
“These performances are amazing, and I don’t always say that but they really are,” said Clayton. “They just went to these wonderful places and all I’d say was, ‘That was really good, can you take it a step further?’ When you have actors that find these things and are wiling to really go into these dark places themselves and find these complex things going on, it makes my job real easy.”
Tickets are $15 adults and $10 students and seniors. All performances are at 8 p.m. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. For more information or to make a reservation, call the box office at 662-7591.