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Saturday, February 27, 2010

land of the dead

People don't do things like that," is the final appalled line of Ibsen's Hedda Gabler. Hedda does do things like that, and so do the latter-day New Yorkers in Neil LaBute's trio of plays. Particularly the unnamed woman in the final play, Helter Skelter, which like much of LaBute's work, is influenced by Greek tragedy, but also echoes the fate of Sharon Tate at the hands of Charles Manson.

Discovering her husband's infidelity, the woman commits an act of monstrous passion that's all the more devastating because it is framed by cold reason. LaBute's dialogue between the couple, already estranged even as they sit at the same table, is a masterclass in building tension, but I'm inclined to take the Judge Brack position: I was dutifully shocked, but never persuaded by the actions of LaBute's suburban Medea.

LaBute's depiction of women is problematic, particularly in the first and weakest play, The Furies. Here, Barry's break-up with his callow boyfriend, Jimmy, is made all the more difficult by the interventions of Jimmy's sister, Jamie, a vengeful harpy so deranged that you wonder why somebody hasn't locked her up and thrown away the key.

The middle play is the most emotionally engaging, as a young pregnant woman faces up to her choices in the early hours of September 11 2001. In two entwining monologues, the relationship between the woman and her boyfriend is laid bare as they both rush blindly forward as the world tilts beneath their feet.

All the playlets are excellently acted: Frances Grey seizes the opportunity to reinvent herself three times over, and Patricia Benecke's production is sleek and coolly detached. But while the evening is narratively compelling, and is likely to make you gasp, it's unlikely to make you feel anything for anyone.

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