By working successfully in both theater and film, playwright and director Neil LaBute has realized something few artists, even very talented ones, have ever accomplished. In the process, LaBute has used the experiences to enrich and reinforce one another, drawing material gathered while working in one medium to nourish the other. The seed of the plot for LaBute’s stage play This Is How It Goes, which will be produced this week at Ensemble Theatre, was planted in his mind by a piece of mail he received following the release of the film Nurse Betty, which he directed. The letter writer deplored his decision to show an interracial kiss between Renee Zellweger and Morgan Freeman.
Never one to back down from fanning the flames of a potential confrontation, LaBute used this racist complaint as the jumping-off point for a play examining a small-town Midwestern couple’s interracial marriage. Ensemble Theatre Company’s Executive/Artistic Director Jonathan Fox, who is helming the production of This Is How It Goes, described the experience of directing the show as one of the most challenging and intriguing of his career. According to Fox, the entire rehearsal period could have been spent solely on dissecting the permutations of the truth LaBute has left open to interpretation in his complex and outrageously provocative script. The play is indeed so filled with twists and turns that it could have been merely convoluted in the hands of a less talented writer.
Aaron Serotsky, last seen on the Alhecama stage in this season’s Visiting Mr. Green, will be in the role of a white man who returns to his hometown, reuniting with his old classmates Cody and Belinda Phipps (Adam Lazarre-White and Shannon Koob), now living in dubious domestic bliss. Cody is “rich and black and different,” and his wife, while superficially enjoying the attention this brings her in the community, may be hiding an entirely different set of feelings. The sudden intrusion of a new element into their relationship brings simmering tensions to the surface, with surprising and disturbing results.
But, despite the larger questions of race, morality, and American ethos that are raised, the play includes its share of laughs. Fox commented that modern playwrights tend not to produce drama that doesn’t provide at least some moments of humor (dark and ironic as that humor can frequently be), and LaBute has followed this pattern. The occasional one-liners interspersed throughout This Is How It Goes, even if less frequent than the moments of heavy emotion, are still witty and effective.
LaBute has said that, as opposed to the more technological demands of film as a medium, “Theater only needs someone to stand up and say: ‘Listen to this.'” He has followed this dictum in crafting this play, while cleverly incorporating some devices more commonly found in film, such as multiple location changes and narrator’s asides to the audience. From the dark humor to the meditations on racial tension, the entire play is ideally designed to provoke thought and discussion-discussions that, if LaBute and Fox have their way, will last much longer than the drive home from the theater.
This Is How It Goes opens on June 1 and plays through June 24 at Ensemble Theatre Company. For more information and tickets, call 9628606 or visit ensembletheatre.com.