Neil Labute’s Bash is a distinctively 1990’s play containing three unrelated parts that are one-act plays in themselves. The component pieces have enough detail to stand alone and have unrelated characters, but a common theme: all of the characters are Mormon and commit horrific acts of violence. True to LaBute’s style, Bash exhibits the depravity that people sink to, despite these characters living on the supposed religious, moral high ground. This two-hander is the debut of Roonagh Productions, founded by Irish actors Stephen Gibbons And Sarah Purcell who perform all roles.
Act one. An unnamed man sits in his hotel room, sipping a glass of water. He has somehow convinced another guest to join him because he needs someone to talk to. What unfolds is the lengthy filicidal monologue from this fellow who seems to have it all: God, a wife, children, a good job. Gibbons initially plays the part nervously, not fully connecting with his character’s guilt. He finally relaxes when he moves onto talking about work and the fear of losing his job, but the first third of the scene had a constant, restrained delivery. When Gibbons connects his family to this prospect, all the pieces fall into place along with his performance. Though he could have more urgency and energy in the beginning of his speech, he eventually captures this calculatingly despicable man and unapologetically lays him at the audience’s feet for their self-righteous consumption.
Act two. A couple from Boston reminisces about a party in New York City they attended when they were students. Sue is sweet and wholesome; John is an all-American frat boy jock. Both characters are stereotypical and two-dimensional. Though there are two characters together on stage, they never talk to each other. Instead, they relay alternating lines to the audience in past tense, which has potential for tedium but Gibbons’ and Purcell’s work is dynamic and keeps the audience interested. John has a murderous, deliberate story similar to the man in first act, but Sue was asleep in the hotel room after the party and only has fond memories of the evening. The religion is more blatant in this story and a driving factor for John and his friend’s actions in a Central Park toilet at an early hour of the morning. The only particular issue in this part of the play is the choice of costume for Sue. If she’s a practicing Mormon, she certainly would not have worn a strapless dress.
Act three. Called “Medea Redux”, this is another monologue featuring Purcell in a police interview. Her story is by far the most complicated and sympathy-inducing but her crime is just as heinous as the previous two. When the woman was thirteen, she and one of her teachers had an ongoing affair; he then abandoned her when she fell pregnant with his child. She was fourteen. Driven to desperation by her lover’s abandonment of her, she repeats Medea’s final act of vengeance. Yes, her crimes are shocking but what is most frustrating is that she was the only character of the three criminals we’ve met who were caught. This is a much meatier role for Purcell, and she performs it with more nuance than she did Sue. This is the most interesting of the three stories, so fitting LaBute saves it for last.
The performances from the two actors are mostly good. There are a few accent slips and Irish intonations here and there, but perhaps not noticeable to British ears. Bash does feel rather dated now, but the writing and the characters are great. It’s an easy production to mount with little set needed, so a wise choice for a debut production. Purcell and Gibbons are older than your average early twenty-somethings thinking it’s cool to start a theatre company so even though there was nothing risky or inventive in this production, it was well done and chosen to suit their types and strengths. Besides, not all theatre has to be revolutionary. As long as its good theatre performed well, it is still to be commended.
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