Neil LaBute's disturbing one-acts tell of the evil in ordinary people 

Dark Tales

During the second play in Theatre Gym's production of "bash: latterday plays," a Mormon businessman (Rick Brandt) drinks a glass of water and begins to confide in us. Hesitating for a moment, he politely asks, "You're OK? Comfortable? Good." By the time he finishes describing the nearly unspeakable horror at the center of "Iphigenia in Orem," we are anything but comfortable.

In fact, all three one-act plays elicit a creepy sense of discomfort. Likable, almost bland characters gain our sympathy before bashing us over the psychic noggin with blunt instruments they seem to produce from thin air. What is the nature of evil? And how close are any of us to committing horrendous acts? The playwright, Neil LaBute, is known for exploring similar territory in his movies, "In the Company of Men" and "Your Friends and Lovers," but here the questions are posed with jarring clarity by a uniformly excellent cast.

In the opening one-act, "A Gaggle of Saints," a charming young couple (Sara J. Heifetz and Martin Montgomery) describe in monologues their trip to New York to attend a party. The man is wound a quarter turn too tight, but there are few hints that he is about to recount an explosion of homophobic violence.

The final one-act, "Medea Redux," is the creepiest of all. A young woman (Heifetz) sits at an interrogation table and tells how she was seduced and impregnated by a teacher when she was 13 years old. The rest of her story, the sparse set, lighting, makeup, and even her hairstyle coincide to create an unnerving portrait of evil that occurs near the end of the play.

All of these characters are Mormon (hence "Latterday" in the subtitle), and it is tempting to imagine LaBute is making some dark point about his faith. More likely, he created them as Mormons simply to indicate clean-cut religious people who give every appearance of being good.

Director Richard St. Peter wisely refrains from adding a lot of directorial flourish to the evening. Every part of the production directly contributes to the chilling effect of ordinary people telling profoundly disturbing stories about themselves.

"Bash" is not for the faint-hearted or those seeking diversion from today's news. But at a time when big-time evil is so apparent, it is important to contemplate how the seeds of wickedness can also germinate in everyday, even latterday, life.


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