RedEye

Twists and turns and a few stumbles in LaBute's 'Forest'

When two characters in a Neil LaBute play head into a forest — dark and deep or otherwise — one does not anticipate either an enjoyable stay or an easy exit for either party. But the latest LaBute drama, now in its American premiere at the Profiles Theatre in Chicago, contains various twists from a prolific playwright who, increasingly, takes as much care as he can to defy expectations and confound the identity ascribed to him by outsiders.

That tendency in, well, let's call it the later LaBute, strikes me as a healthy thing for a complex artist who, given the nature of the plays and of his particular personality, has batted away more intrusive biographical questions than most. I doubt he sees it, but both the intrusions and the irritated batting do his work good. They make defiant reinvention a constant, churlish necessity, which is a good thing when you are as naturally prolific as LaBute.

This time, the characters are not lovers but siblings — very different siblings, who, by their own admission, wonder how they can possibly have come out of the same womb. Betty (Natasha Lowe) is a college professor, recently a dean of humanities. Bobby (Darrell W. Cox) is a blue-collar laborer with about as much interest in semiotics as a possum. But that doesn't mean this Gretel does not need her Hansel: Betty has asked Bobby to the cabin on this dark and stormy night — the power keeps going out, a la Agatha Christie or Ira Levin — to help move some of the personal belongings out of the place so she can unload it. Or so she says. The less you know about the plot the better, but the opening thrust is that the mendacious Betty has appetites well beyond writing papers, and she is not giving her brother the full picture of her life. Bobby, meanwhile, has interests of his own.

"In a Forest, Dark and Deep" is a recent play, premiering in London in 2011 with Matthew Fox and Olivia Williams. Interesting and formatively atypical, it strikes me as very much a meditation on what is and is not true, on the ease of rushing to misjudgment, and also a further manifestation of the longstanding authorial fascination with the close link between deep intimacy and dark violence. Some of the thriller tropes, which tend to distract from the matters in hand, feel like an unnecessary unsurety that the play would be exciting enough, and I don't think this piece will be on the list of LaBute's greatest hits: his last play seen at Profiles, "Reasons to Be Pretty" is one of his best. But longtime students of the work of this fine American playwright will find more than enough to occupy their minds and stir their psyches for 90 minutes.

Director Joe Jahraus' production is staged in the old National Pastime Theatre, now Profiles' Main Stage. It's a much bigger space than the other theater up the street and it will take time for Profiles to adjust. At this juncture, the show is insufficiently enveloping, and full-on environmental impact needs to remain one of Profiles greatest strengths. The other issue in play is that Cox struggles to present a sufficiently normative character in the early stages of this drama — his guy is uncouth, granted, but still needs to be recognizable by type — to let his scene partner take focus and unveil her personal house of horrors. Lowe, a genteel actress with a powerful sting, is well cast here and she's aptly irritating and yet empathetic. LaBute knows where the bodies are buried with female characters of this type and he needles his way under Betty's polished surface, as he does so well.

But although you feel a strong pulse from both of these actors, the rhythms of the production are staccato, when a duplicitous relationship between siblings is surely should be faux-smooth. You've got to like the ordinary Bobby in the early stages more than Cox makes possible — the dude starts out here with so many tics and weirdnesses that he has nowhere to go. And conversely, Lowe has to show us a voracious appetite and set of needs that she and her director bring to the surface but never let howl.

Heck, it's a forest dark and deep, no one can hear you scream.

cjones5@tribune.com

Twitter@ChrisJonesTrib

When: Through June 3

Where: Profiles Theatre Main Stage, 4139 N. Broadway

Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes

Tickets: $35 at 773-549-1815 or profiles.org

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
Related Content
  • Chicago sues red light camera firm for $300 million

    Chicago sues red light camera firm for $300 million

    Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration has sued Chicago's former red light camera operator, Redflex Traffic Systems, for more than $300 million on grounds the entire program was built on a $2 million bribery scheme at City Hall that has already led to federal corruption convictions.

  • Marrow's 'The Gold Standard' raises the Chicago rock bar

    Marrow's 'The Gold Standard' raises the Chicago rock bar

    The four musicians in Marrow know quite a bit about bringing diverse influences to the table. After all, three of them, singer-guitarist Liam Kazar, singer-keyboardist Macie Stewart and bassist Lane Beckstrom were in Kids These Days, a now-defunct septet that combined jazz, funk, rap and rock in...

  • The Kids These Days family tree

    The Kids These Days family tree

    From its 2009 beginnings to its 2013 demise, Chicago's Kids These Days seemed like one of the most promising acts the city had seen in years. While the band split up at the height of its hype, its members have since gone on to do bigger and better things—seriously impressive considering the hip-hop/rock/jazz...

  • Solid 'Gold': How ex-Kids These Days members came back stronger as Marrow

    Solid 'Gold': How ex-Kids These Days members came back stronger as Marrow

    After the dissolution of Kids These Days, the much-buzzed about Chicago fusion-jazz-rock-rap septet that split in spring 2013 just a few months after releasing its only album, “Traphouse Rock,” some of its members spent what seems like all of 20 minutes bandless. "We were driving back from the...

  • Mr Twin Sister's 'In the House of Yes' is one of last year's hidden treasures

    Mr Twin Sister's 'In the House of Yes' is one of last year's hidden treasures

    Welcome to RedEye's "Song of the Day," an ongoing feature where music reporter Josh Terry or another RedEye staff member highlights something they're listening to. Some days the track will be new, and some days it will be old. No matter what, each offering is something you should check out. Check...

  • GrubHub's weekend customer-support issues made people hangry

    GrubHub's weekend customer-support issues made people hangry

    Technical difficulties at GrubHub and Seamless over the weekend drove hordes of hangry would-be customers to air their grievances on social media. The food ordering and delivery sites, which merged in 2013 and use GrubHub’s back-end technology, errantly accepted payments on Saturday evening without...

Comments
Loading
80°