It’s not that Bash bashes Mormons, like the Jon Krakauer book Under the Banner of Heaven (2003). Instead, LaBute wants to show us that the capacity for vicious behavior, or sin, can lurk underneath the blandest exteriors. The Latter-day Saints, or Mormons, America’s largest home-grown faith, cultivates good manners and washed facades. Some or all of these people confessing their misdeeds through the fourth wall are Mormons.
As none of these monologues signals where it’s going initially, it’s probably best to leave out what the unspeakable crimes are. In the first, a man in a hotel room relates his reaction to a humiliating practical joke at work. Next are a formally dressed couple, John (in a tuxedo) and Sue; these Boston College students have come to New York City for a huge gala. And last is a thin, still girlish woman in a prison uniform, speaking into an old, cigar-box size recorder, not unlike Samuel Beckett’s Mr. Krapp. The first and third plays are conversational monologues, without big rhetorical speeches. The second features parallel monologues where John and Sue never speak to each other, only to us.
All three one-acts have much in common. Characters “forget” specific words only to remember them later portentously. Speakers allude frequently to movie dialogue and even more to Classical culture. The first item is titled “Iphigenia in Orem,” for the daughter sacrificed by Agamemnon at the onset of the voyage to Troy, and secondly for the high-tech suburb of Salt Lake City. The woman in the third, “Medea Redux,” tells how her old English teacher got her to read Euripides, just in case we have forgotten how the ancient queen got back at the husband who abandoned her.
Although LaBute burst upon the scene with his movies (In the Company of Men, 1997; Nurse Betty, 2000), he was first and continues to be a man of the live theater. As a longtime drama teacher he is also unmistakably the actor’s friend. Under director Dan Tursi’s sure hand, David Simmons’ man in “Iphigenia” is a monster of vanity parading as Mr. Nice. We cringe when he apologizes for using cliched phrases, demanding that we always think the best of him no matter what outrages he confesses.
Stephen Peters and Kellie Ellis, although skillful, are at a disadvantage from LaBute’s weaker writing in the middle play, “A Gaggle of Saints.” LaBute, a drama club nerd, clearly despises jocks and sorority princesses and has them signal their indifferent cruelty before we hear about John lashing out at a gay man who triggers his poorly repressed fear.
The big news in this performance, as in New York, is the third one-act, “Medea Redux.” Erin Race has been a go-to girl for unrewarding roles, appearing as the second banana in Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical and as Sister Mary Amnesia in Nunsensation! The Nunsense Vegas Review, whose ditsy voice she borrows fleetingly when relating her Bash character’s pre-adolescent self-deception. But here she constantly has to turn up the heat for 45 minutes. In this Utah prison, Race flawlessly gives us the gentle girl whose slim body houses satanic force. It’s as if Race were betting her life on this performance—and she wins.
This production runs through March 28. See Times Table for information.