Bash

Local Arts Reviews

Exhibitionism

Bash: Fathoming the Unfathomable

Hyde Park Theatre, through Dec. 14

Running Time: 1 hr, 45 min

To look at him, he seems a nice enough guy. Clean-shaven. Crisp white shirt and dark suit with the tie loosened. Affable smile. Friendly, but not too friendly, if you know what I mean. Quick with a funny line, and not afraid to laugh at himself, you know, make a joke at his own expense. And he's very solicitous, checking in with you to see that you're comfortable, that he hasn't said anything to offend you. In fact, the way he corrects himself when he talks, glancing downward sheepishly, gives the impression that -- and I know it's a cliché but it really applies here -- this guy couldn't hurt a fly. He certainly doesn't seem capable of the kind of atrocities that fuel Greek tragedy.

And yet he is.

And so is the clean-cut young man in the black suit dressed for a dance and the young woman in the white T-shirt sitting at the table. All of these characters tell us as much in Bash, a grouping of three monologues by Neil LaBute. They all feature protagonists who by all appearances are considerate, decent people, but in the stories they share they prove themselves capable of committing unfathomable crimes against other human beings, even their own flesh and blood, just like those vengeful men and women that populate the blood-stained works of Euripides and Sophocles.

Not that LaBute's characters set out to do harm, you understand; they might never have considered such a thing until the circumstances led them there. But, as each endeavors to convince us, once this thing happened and then this and this, what was there left that one could do? What looks to be an act of brutality was only a natural outcome in their eyes. Their tales are odysseys into inhumanity, wherein the destinations are not foreseen when the protagonists set sail; it is only by a wandering course that they find themselves in a harbor of cruelty and murder.

This may make Bash sound unappealing, but that's hardly the case, at least in this production by the dirigo group. LaBute has crafted these stories to be accessible, his characters to be readily approachable. These people are easy to listen to; they talk about taking pleasure in simple things -- a midday nap, a lover's eyes, a bath, children -- and their way of speaking is informal, low-key, frequently self-effacing. The performers here build on that to achieve a breezy intimacy with the audience. They pull us in to them and engage us so thoroughly that when the darkness falls, and we find ourselves with them on that far shore of cruelty, we find it hard to abandon them. We see too much of ourselves in them.

There's the young couple, just out of college and so in love, still dazzled by life. Kelsey Kling and B. Michael Rains play them with stars in their eyes, a giddy fervor for each other and for the sensual delights of a perfect night in the Big City. There's the young woman at the table, describing for someone unseen -- a police detective, perhaps? -- her teenage affair with one of her teachers and the fallout from it; Lee Eddy keeps her nervously lighting cigarettes, but between puffs, in soft tones and smiles that break out as suddenly as sunbeams on a cloudy day, she displays the shy vulnerability of a girl discovering romance. And there's the affable guy in the suit, a Mormon businessman and family man seeking to unburden himself to a stranger. Lowell Bartholomee gives him an unassuming attitude, that of the guy next door, a fellow you'd like to hang out with, a regular Joe. These actors all put us at ease in the company of these figures, only to parcel out in rare moments -- Bartholomee taking digs at women in the workplace, Rains and Kling conveying an air of privilege -- the shadows that will eventually swallow them.

If you didn't know that this was Judson Jones' first time directing, you might not be able to tell it from this production. His work with the actors is assured, allowing them the room to immerse themselves in character, to take the time -- in breaths and pauses, small gestures and turns of the head -- to reveal what lies within the hidden chambers of these peoples' hearts. Yet he also keeps them tightly focused on the intent of their stories; flaccid and self-indulgent moments are nowhere to be found. It may look as if he didn't have much to do -- the characters just sit and talk, so there's no movement to speak of -- but while the show may lack technical complexity, it is abundant in emotional complexity, journeys from uncertainty to delight to anger to cruelty.

Bash may appear an anomaly in this season of feel-good tales of charity and redemption. But as we stand on the precipice of war, as we listen to report after report of suicide attacks and military reprisals, as we hear words like "terrorist" and "infidel" invoked ever more frequently in an effort to reduce human beings into faceless enemies, life feels cheap. It's all too easy to lose one's hold on humanity, to stop seeing other human beings for what they are. While Bash may not show its characters seeing the errors of their ways, its lesson is clear: Hold on to your humanity. It's a lesson fit for this time of year.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Bash, dirigo group, Neil LaBute, Judson Jones, Lowell Bartholomee, Kelsey Kling, Lee Eddy

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