Geffen Playhouse: Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater / Los Angeles
On through 4 March
Neil LaBute is the snobby theatre-goer’s favorite punching bag– what with his “gimmicks,” his twist endings, and his seeming unwillingness to uplift our noble human spirit or adequately chastise his brutal white male leads. But what gets lost in the obsession over his misanthropy— and what’s evident in his production of Wrecks at the Geffen Playhouse— is LaBute’s mastery as a storyteller. The man can spin a tale.
Like his earlier successful solo pieces in Bash: The Latterday Plays, Wrecks is a pure exercise in story: an 85 minute, uninterrupted yarn-slash-confession that’s disarming, funny, mesmerizing… and the set-up to a painfully human punch-line. How you react to that punch-line will depend on how you react to any of LaBute’s work: will you roll your eyes with disdain? Nod with satisfaction that you were well ahead of the curve? Or just walk out of the theatre wanting to rinse your mouth out?
Love it or hate it, it’s hard to deny Ed Harris his due as Edward Carr, the grieving widower who’s slipped out from the hand-shaking of his wife’s memorial to sneak a few cigarettes and tell us everything. And I mean everything. Harris has always been a solid go-to Common Man for Hollywood. He’s like that slightly intimidating neighborhood dad whose aggressive joking hides something raw. We never expect him to be pretty, urbane or morally pure, but there’s always something upstanding about him. Call it the Midwestern Factor. We’re on his side, and he knows it. And so does Neil LaBute, to devastating effect.
Harris had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand, members of the front row literally nodding along when he looked to them, chuckling, validating him, encouraging him to go on. Helped by the intimacy of the space and the clean modern-funeral-home sparseness of Sibyl Wickersheimer’s set, this is a consummate actor taking an audience by the reins.
Playing until March 4th at the Geffen Playhouse’s Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater, Wrecks is a pleasure like a mouthful of sweet-and-sour candy. Either you’ve got the enamel for it, or you don’t.