All that’s missing is a carny out in front of the Public Theater screaming, “Mothers, shield your children! Gentlemen, if you have a heart condition, leave now!” On the heels of the fall hit Fat Pig, the hype around Neil LaBute’s “dangerous,” “incendiary,” “politically incorrect” sensibility has reached its apex.
This new play is about racism’s role in the complicated relationship between a married couple (Jeffrey Wright and Amanda Peet) and their old high-school friend (Ben Stiller), who also serves as the story’s self-proclaimed unreliable narrator. Stiller, Peet, and Wright are a remarkable ensemble; each delivers a funny, nuanced, intelligent performance. Director George C. Wolfe’s production is smart and stylish. And the play itself, behind the “Step right up, folks!” curtain, is absolutely, positively … fine. Like the rest of LaBute’s misanthropic canon, it’s not ultimately all that offensive, nor does it stand out, except in its enthusiastic use of the N-word. The real moral here is for Christopher Shinn, Will Eno, and the other playwrights working Off Broadway who are just as good or better than LaBute. If only they’d throw a few gasp-worthy epithets into their shows, maybe they’d get an A-list cast and sold-out run, too.
By Neil Labute
At The Public Theater