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Neil LaBute and the Mormon church parted company a little while ago. It may surprise many viewers of Bash that, when he wrote these three short monologic pieces in 1999, he was still a member.
He may have been using the pieties most familiar to him as an emblem for humanity’s general tendencies to brutality and self-justification; Rob Howell’s design suggests as much, with a huge mirror at the back of the stage reflecting our responses as an audience back to us. Nevertheless, the trilogy feels like the work of an apostate making specific, embittered indictments. It does not help that he has subtitled the work “Latterday Plays”, thus drawing attention both to the updates of Greek myths that occur in them and to the LDS culture of their protagonists.
In “Iphigenia In Orem” (a suburb of Salt Lake City), a nervous young businessman assists his daughter’s cot death in the hope that it will prevent his employers from making him redundant. In “Medea Redux” a young woman, seduced and impregnated by her teacher when under age, arranges a first meeting of father and son then murders the boy.
These two monologues bookend “A Gaggle of Saints”, in which a chaste young couple’s separate accounts of attending a (church-related?) party in New York are intercut, with Sue entirely ignorant that while she slept, her beloved John beat a gay man to death in Central Park.
All the by now familiar LaBute notes are struck: the facility for writing contemporary American speech (like David Mamet, only in proper sentences), the inability to resist pointing out every so often just how thoughtful and many-layered he is being, and above all the utter despair of someone who has said that he first decided to become a writer on encountering the notorious baby-stoning scene in Edward Bond’s Saved.
Tamara Harvey’s production for the new company Theatre of Memory is for the most part as spare as LaBute’s prose, although it doesn’t need even the few elements of high concept that she introduces. Embarrassingly for the company’s founders, Juliet Rylance and David Sturzaker, their solos are eclipsed by the duet of younger actors, Harry Lloyd and Jodie Whittaker.
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