How much impact do we have on the lives of our romantic partners? And what, if any, responsibility do we have for how we behave in those relationships? Those are among many questions raised in Neil LaBute’s play Some Girl(s), directed by Bakari Lebby in an ongoing production by Workshop Theatre in the Market Space at 701 Whaley.
The title stems from the dismissive way the protagonist (Patrick Michael Kelly) refers to ex-girlfriends and even his fiancée: “She’s nobody — just some girl.” While listed in the program as “Guy,” no one ever addresses Kelly’s character by name; he too is to be seen as just some guy. An academic now finding commercial success and acclaim as “a fearless cartographer of the soul” after publication in The New Yorker, he sets out to reconnect with women from his past, ostensibly to resolve any lingering bad blood or misunderstandings. Did his article — reflecting on his misadventures in romance — inspire this quest for self-awareness and atonement, or is it, as he maintains, his impending marriage? Unfolding in a series of hotel rooms in Seattle, Chicago, Boston and Los Angeles, LaBute’s script explores the complexities of modern love with blunt, bitter honesty, giving no one a pass, and offering no easy answers along the way.
One immediately wonders if the lead is deceiving these women — who, interestingly, all have traditionally male or gender-neutral names: Sam, Tyler, Lindsay, Bobbi (who refers to her sister Billi) and Reggie. Or is he deceiving himself? At an opening weekend matinee last week, Kelly expertly navigated a fine course between his character’s conflicting motivations and feelings. The emotional toll exacted on the protagonist during his odyssey might cause the audience to feel sorry for him if only he weren’t quite such a smarmy tool. Yet it’s hard to hate him, since his apparent desire for growth and enlightenment seems sincere, and most of his sins evolved from his admitted immaturity and youthful selfishness.
Lebby’s direction is confident and intricate, allowing each actor to bring LaBute’s gritty, meandering, ultra-natural prose to life. The playwright’s style involves hundreds of often-overlapping one- and two-syllable words, spoken quickly with all the pauses, stammers, and silences of contemporary speech, as the characters search in vain for the right phrase or answer.
The cast was up for the challenge, employing excellent body language to enhance their lines, with fingers pointing, shoulders shrugging and arms flailing helplessly in the air at appropriate moments. Christine Hellman as college girlfriend Bobbi was perhaps the fiercest and most insightful, denouncing her ex as “some emotional terrorist, just ripping away at people,” and asking the pertinent (and unanswered) question: “When is hurting [someone] OK?” Adrianna Wooten, as free spirit Tyler, needed to play more to the audience and not just her scene partner. Still, she connected with Kelly with intense authenticity and appeal. Ellen Rodillo-Fowler, as older lover Lindsay, brought touching nuance to her memories of a disastrous affair. Kayla Cayhill was perhaps the easiest to identify with as suburban mom Sam, who is surprised to realize how resentful she still is, years after a high school break-up.
But the most moving performance for me was by Haley Claffy as young professional Reggie. While she, like the other women featured, has continued with her life exactly as it was likely to have unfolded anyway, she eloquently asserted one of the author’s principal themes: Even the tiniest interaction with another human being can have lingering consequences, even if the other person successfully moves on. During long stretches of dialogue where Kelly’s hyper-articulate character tried to explain himself, Claffy’s wounded expression conveyed infinite meaning and significance in silence.
Randy Strange and Dean McCaughan’s set design capitalizes on the homogeneity of hotel rooms, with successive scenes distinguished by quick rearrangements of furniture (including a cleverly-designed king-size bed that becomes twins), changes of bedspreads and assorted decorative artwork by Lauren Hood and Alizey Khan that’s actually spiffier and more appealing than one might normally find in such environs. Barry Sparks’s lighting was excellent as usual, including an expertly realized effect where light shines in from a window, and Brandy Doby’s costumes accurately reflect the nature of each character.
Some Girl(s) is the sort of play that entertains while simultaneously causing one to think, and to become uncomfortable when certain scenarios hit too close to home. The universality of the issues raised, and the ability of the director and cast to express them, make this production a success.
What: Some Girl(s)
Where:Market Place at 701 Whaley, 701 Whaley St.
When:Through Feb. 19
Price: $20 ($17 seniors/military; $14 students; $10 children)
More: 803-799-6551, workshoptheatre.com