Neil LaBute’s Bash features some rather messed up folks. (Alert: semi-spoilers ahead.) There’s a guy who, in a cold, businesslike way, suffocates his newborn after learning he’s set to lose his job; a college-age guy who brutally attacks — and kills — a gay man in Central Park; and a woman who murders her child to get back at her former lover.
(End of spoilers. Sort of.)
With Greek and classic inspired titles for the three acts — Ipigenia in Orem, A Gaggle of Saints, Medea Redux — LaBute suggests that these tales of violence and everyday evilness are timeless. These aren’t stories we like to hear, but I believe they’re necessary, as they remind us of who we can be — what we’re all capable of deep, deep down. Keep your rage in check, people
Of course, one can’t hear these brutal stories and not think of Tyler Clementi, Billy Lucas, and Asher Brown. And, as we were reminded in the post show talkback, exactly 12 years ago from last night’s opening, Matthew Shepard was brutally attacked and left for dead.
Despite the wonders of human evolution, evilness and ignorance still endure. To ignore such things would be foolish and dangerous.
When I told people I was seeing Bash (a play I’ve never seen before last night), more than a few people responded with something to the effect of, “oh, that play again”? I guess it’s been done. However, Brikenbrak Theatre Project, which is finishing up its first season, offers a production that I feel is very much worth seeing. Director Paul Cosca, who also appears in the first act monologue, has arranged the Viaduct’s cave of a venue into an intimate blackbox space, with rows surrounding three side of the stage. Onstage, two chairs face each other, several feet apart. On one side sits the actor, on the other, a random audience member chosen by a number drawing.
I happened to be selected to sit in that chair for the second act — the gay bashing duologue. The experience was surreal. Though you are onstage, you’re concealed in the dark while these people speak to you — and only to you. So the setup itself isn’t as uncomfortable as you’d expect.
What was uncomfortable was watching Graham Jenkins, a powerful young actor studying at Columbia College who embodies the role perfectly, emoting all his raw, secret hatred directly to me. An on-stage confessional. It’s a sobering performance.
But that wasn’t the most uncomfortable part.
Off to the side, in the audience, sat a middle-aged couple — a large guy with a shaved head and his lady friend — who were snickering throughout the scene. Let me make this clear: they were chuckling like they were at a Neil Simon comedy during a scene concerning a guy getting bashed in the skull and having his back broken and then left for dead simply because he was gay. It was disturbing and added a degree of tension that (I hope) will never be recreated. Ah: the theatre.
And what the hell is wrong with people?
Anyway. Though I can’t say I find LaBute’s writing that amazing — it’s rather trite and it seems you’re always more than a few steps ahead of the story — Cosca has assembled a great cast who delivers these monologues and duologues with carefully measured energy. Their anger simmers to the surface rather than exploding wildly. It’s chilling.
And you should really should take advantage of that chair should you catch this production and your number is called.
“Bash” plays through Oct. 31 at the Viaduct Theatre on 311 N. Western Ave. More info here >