Hovey Players' 'Some Girl(s)' exposes some guys
For a little over a decade now, Neil LaBute has been telling us just how cruel and ugly men can be to women, and sometimes vice versa.
He could be a fundamentalist preacher delivering fire and brimstone sermons on the subject. But instead he's a successful playwright and screenwriter who has captured people's attention by shocking them with the degree of cruelty and ugliness he often ascribes to his characters. He claimed in one of his interviews that he's driven by a desire to wake people up. Sound like a preacher?
LaBute wrote "Some Girl(s)," which is now being staged by the Hovey Players in their charming basement theater in Waltham.
True to form, it's about a man who has treated women very badly and continues to; actually, it's more about women reacting to how badly they've been treated by him. But it's not as in-your-face and disturbing as some of his plays. So it may be a good introduction to him for those unfamiliar with his work.
It has weaknesses as a play. In some ways, it's actually structured more like a formulaic sermon or fable than an organic play. It consists of five scenes, each in a different hotel room, in which the male character named Guy - obviously representing men generally - meets with five old girlfriends individually, the "Girl(s)" in the title, whom he admits he didn't treat as well as he should have.
The most interesting way to view the material is as a writing exercise - how are the scenes made different from one another while also remaining interconnected? And as an acting exercise - how does each actress create a different feel and tone to her scene? From this perspective, it's a good choice for a community theater to undertake, and it's fairly engaging to watch.
In the first scene Guy meets with Sam, a girl he dated in high school and proceeded to dump, because, as he now tells her, he knew exactly how her future would turn out. He didn't want to be the husband who still worked in the local grocery store. But my husband is a store manager, she insists angrily. And then there's the deception she learned about later and now exposes.
Brooke Casanova as Sam tends to lapse a bit into mugging and cliched gestures when she's still trying to figure out why Guy invited her to his room. This is something of a problem in several of the scenes - it's hard not to fall into playing moments of uncertainty in a vague way. But she's strong and full of real feeling when she attacks him for what he has done.
As the scenes progress, we learn a little more about him. He's in his early 30s, writes for New Yorker magazine and is now engaged to a nurse 10 years younger than he. He claims that he wants to meet with some of his old girlfriends to make amends before his wedding.
Kristen Dattoli-Orfanos plays Tyler, a sex-kitten who climbs all over Guy, trying to persuade him to have a last fling and even smoke a little pot before he gets married. She, too, was hurt by him years earlier, but it doesn't stop her from throwing herself at him and scaring him into a corner. Dattoli-Orfanos is totally limber, uninhibited and believable as she pursues him.
In a scene that LaBute has added to the play since he first wrote it, Gabrielle Hatcher plays Reggie, a girl who has the most disturbing complaint of all against Guy. Hatcher has a lovely naturalness and ease on the stage, remarkable for someone who's as new to acting as she is. And she has a good sharp edge as she brings her complaints against him with the finesse of a prosecutor.
One begins to wonder why Guy is subjecting himself to these attacks in which he seems to have so little to gain. The full answer comes as a surprise late in the play, but it's so clever and unrelated to Guy's inner emotional life, that it leaves William Stambaugh, as Guy, with the tough job of playing a cipher. So he tends to fall into humming and hawing as he tries to cover Guy's secret, in a way that isn't as interesting to watch as a performance should be.
Shana Dirik is excellent as the tough, hard-bitten Lyndsay, who cheated on her husband (Guy's university employer) to have an affair with Guy. Now she has an idea for revenge with a clever, if rather unbelievable, twist.
The most riveting exchange comes between Leigh Berry as Bobbi and Stambaugh as Guy. They both go at each other with directness and passion, sending off sparks. Suddenly, we see how good an actor Stambaugh really is, and Berry, too. It's made possible because these two characters love and want each other, but their past is an enormous hurdle.
Director Mario Salinas gives good shape and definition to these scenes. Jennifer Shea has designed an appropriately generic hotel room. And doubling as costume designer, Leigh Berry has provided the women with appealing, distinct and, at times, sexy costumes.
This play offers the voyeuristic pleasure of reading letters to a personal advice column in the newspaper and hopefully thinking, "Thank goodness, that's not me."
"Some Girl(s)" by Neil LaBute runs through March 28 at Hovey Players, 9 Spring St., Waltham. Tickets: $16; $14 for students and seniors. Info: 781-893-9171; www.hoveyplayers.com.
The MetroWest Daily News