The question always is why do bad things happen to good people? In Neil Labute’s Bash: Latterday Plays, the question seems to be why do good people do bad things?
Bash is a combination of three one-acts held together by a common theme that surfaces in each part. But the show is intended for a younger audience, one with members who have grown up in a world with the issues of teenage pregnancy and anti-homosexuality violence.
The show begins with a young woman (Tina Franz) sitting at a table telling the sad, twisted tale of her life. At age 13, she began to have an affair with her schoolteacher. During her entire description of her relationship, emotions bounce through your head. You’re shocked, appalled and angered, but mostly you feel a gut-wrenching sadness for the young girl who was taken advantage of. That feeling only multiplies when you learn that she became pregnant, and the teacher left her to raise the child on her own.
However, as is the case with all three one-acts, the characters throw a dark quirk into their stories, forcing you to change you opinion about them. Edward Gero portrays a traveling businessman in the second one-act. Set in a hotel lobby, Gero’s character talks to a random guest of the hotel about a dreadful family secret in his past. Unlike the first performance, this monologue includes intermingled moments of humor poked at Gero’s listener’s drinking. Although you could count the comical lines on one hand, the one-liners break up the heavy, depressive atmosphere that permeates the show.
In the final one act, Franz transforms from the single, troubled mother into a college senior. She performs alongside Charlie Schroeder. Franz and Schroeder are high school sweethearts who have been together during their four years of college. They’ve gone to New York for the weekend for a fancy party. They give their monologues after the party, still dressed to the nines, and describe the weekend’s events. Although you are not as easily drawn to these characters as the first two, you still experience the slew of emotions when you learn their secret.
Gero gives the shining performance of the show. His leisure suit and strange quirks bring to life the traveling businessman element of the piece. More than any of the other thespians, he draws in the audience members, both young and old, to his plight. He brings you onto his side with his tales of struggling to make ends meet. So when he throws his zinger at you, you are shocked and confused because you’ve trusted and liked this character.
Although Gero deserves accolades for his performance, much of the success of his performance lies in Labute’s writing of the part. In this one-act, Labute fully accomplishes his goal of seducing the audience onto the performer’s side before tossing the wrench into the story. Although Franz and Schroeder dole out commendable performances, the story doesn’t work as well. From the beginning of Schroeder and Franz’s bit, you can predict the surprise that will be flung at you. And although you do not suspect the information that Franz reveals, you don’t bond as easily with her as you do with Gero.
In the end Labute misfires with Bash: Latterday Plays. His intentions are understood, but all the one-acts contain unanswered questions. You’ll inevitably be moved by the horrid tales, but you wouldn’t be human if you didn’t experience any emotional response to the stories. However, an emotional response does not automatically mean that the show succeeds. And in this case, it just doesn’t work.
Bash: Latterday Plays runs through April 9 at the Studio Theatre (14th and P streets). Tickets range from $21.50 to $38.50.