There’s a ton of Yale theater going up this weekend, and it’s not your typical tried-and-true classics. In the next few days, audiences will witness two modern works by some of the most edgy and interesting artists out there, including David Mamet’s “Romance” and Neil LaBute’s “Bash: Latter-Day Plays.”
For those of you not up on the latest in contemporary playwriting, Neil LaBute is widely considered the stylistic and spiritual descendant of David Mamet, known for his fast, prosodic dialogue. For those of you not up on contemporary playwriting AT ALL, LaBute and Mamet are both playwrights.
More detail: critics usually cite terse dialogue style, dark thematic complexity and general edginess as similarities between the two writers. Oh, and the fact that they are both incredibly talented — Mamet has received several Tony and Oscar nominations, and LaBute’s “Bash” and his 1998 Ben Stiller film “Your Friends and Neighbors” were critically acclaimed hits.
The two playwrights compose brief and biting dialogue that is a real challenge to get right, according to “Romance” director Harrison Marks ’10. He recalls that when he met actor Raúl Esparza backstage at the Broadway rendition of Mamet’s “Speed-the-Plow,” Esparza gave him some crucial advice.
“He said that Mamet, like Shakespeare, almost writes in a beat, almost iambic pentameter,” Marks recalled. “If you’re saying the dialogue correctly, the beat will fall into place — you’ll know if you’re doing it right or wrong.”
Likewise, LaBute wrote a script that demands high energy from the actors and director. Except the challenge in “Bash,” directed by Emma Guttman-Slater ‘11, was not coordinating quippy dialogue but mastering epic monologues.
At first glance, the two shows seem on completely different ends of the spectrum — the former is a courtroom comedy that degenerates into strings of vulgar slurs covering every possible “ism,” with only a vaguely-hinted-at moral about human incapacity for peace, while the latter chronicles the stories of three seemingly ordinary people who commit horrendous murders in three chilling one-acts.
But what connects the works is the playwrights’ desire to push their audience beyond its comfort zone, forcing spectators to reexamine their assumptions. Both Mamet and LaBute love to pull the rug out from under us. Think Brendan Berger ’10 looks kind of hot as a lawyer? Sorry sweetheart, by scene three he’s as gay as that “fagbug” parked outside Commons. Think John seems like a nice enough guy? Well, surprise, he and his buddies are apparently capable of brutally beating Berger, the fagbug driver and any other homosexual they encounter in the park. Some of these revelations are funny, some are horrifying, but all are intensely shocking — these are playwrights who want to wake you up and blow your mind, not treat you to a nice, soporific dose of “Romeo, Romeo.”
Admittedly, it takes a little bit of digging to see the connection between a high-energy farce and a series of murder confessions. But Mamet and LaBute are on similarly unrelenting quests to reveal what they see as the world’s disturbing, fundamental truths.
Don’t just take my word for it. Listen to LaBute, who says of Mamet, “I’m beyond fan, stalker perhaps? Psychological stalker.”
A strange way to express your admiration. These two, it seems, were made for each other.