By Ruth Ross
The male characters in Neil LaBute’s plays (Fat Pig, Reasons to Be Pretty) usually behave like misogynistic jerks, so his 2015 opus, The Way We Get By, represents a sea change in characterization. Michael Driscoll, director of the current production onstage at Alliance Rep in Summit, posits that LaBute “must have been in love” when he wrote it.
Whatever the reason, LaBute’s abandons his usual nasty sexual politics to feature a lovable, caring, empathetic young man and a brittle, sardonic, cynical, rather unlikeable young woman. That the palpable emotional and psychological conflict between the two reaches a “sort-of” resolution through a neat plot development makes for a satisfying drama, one you’ll talk about over a post-theater coffee.
In a shared New York City apartment, Beth and Doug struggle with the awkward aftermath of what appears to be a one-night stand that began at an affair the two were attending. During the course of the play, we learn that the two have known each other for quite a while: Beth can recite the names of Doug’s former girlfriends, and he confesses to having a major crush on her since seventh grade! The nonstop, 80-minute discussion of “our situation” includes verbal sparring; self-conscious, flinch-inducing confessions; and embarrassing announcements as the two attractive young people peel away the layers of their past and their present to reveal a surprising circumstance that will affect their future as a couple.
I tease Alliance Rep for their propensity for using two actors, a table and two chairs to put on a show, but I compliment their ability to use so little to make much, getting to the essence of drama. This time, set designers Gordon Wiener and Lilli Marques have dressed the set with a sleek, modern sofa, colorful rug and drapes, and various accessories to give us the flavor of an annoyingly organized New York apartment. It’s the perfect backdrop for a very modern romance.
Driscoll’s adept direction keeps the verbal hits coming without being rushed and elicits natural, convincing performances his two actors. Talking nonstop, Jeff Ronan’s Doug is adorably awkward as he is reluctant to return to bed after what was has been a rapturous experience? and very kind and loving. It’s almost painful to watch him wither under Beth’s barbs and standoffish responses to his romantic overtures. Lilli Marques’ Beth appears to be looking for a fight; indeed, she wants him to convince her that their future is worth pursuing. It’s that revelation that arouses our sympathy for this young woman caught what will probably be a fraught situation. (No spoilers.)
The clever, snappily delivered dialogue and the sexually charged, believable chemistry between Ronan and Marques make The Way We Get By a not-to-be-missed production. The fact that it’s short and well-acted are two more reasons to see the show. But the theater is small (only 30 seats), and there are only two more weekends to catch it, so hurry on over to Summit to see this terrific addition to the local theater scene. You won’t be sorry you did.
The Way We Get By will be performed by Alliance Rep at Mondo, 426 Springfield Ave., lower level, Summit, through November 17. For information or to purchase tickets, call 908-472-1502 or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.