by David Lally · October 21, 2014
In 2012, Neil LaBute and Marco Calvani began a collaboration exploring different approaches to writing and directing for the theatre by focusing on the different styles specific to contemporary European and American playwriting. This collaboration, known as Ada – Author Directing Author, culminated with the presentation of three international premieres of two new plays, performed in Italian, Spanish and English in the summer of 2012 at the 55th Spoleto Festival, the Fringe Festival of Madrid and La Mama Theatre, New York.
This summer the two writer/directors reunited once again for a second edition of the project. During a residency at La Mama Umbria in the Italian countryside, LaBute and Calvani each wrote two short one-act plays around a common theme – “Desire” – and during a residency at the Biennale di Venezia they worked on the Italian presentation exchanging roles. LaBute would direct Calvani’s play and Calvani would direct LaBute’s. This collaboration is now appearing at La Mama’s First Floor Theatre through November 3rd.
Two authors, two directors, two characters, one evening.
First up is Happy Hour, written by LaBute and directed by Calvani. Chris Henry Coffey stars as Ted, a sales rep entertaining Japanese businessmen from out of town at a nightclub during happy hour. Jennifer Mudge is Cleo, who may or may not be trying to pick him up. As in any Neil LaBute play we expect that at some point there will be a reversal, and let’s face it, half the fun is trying to figure out what it will be.
Desire is thwarted by the fact that Ted has to keep reminding Cleo that he has a fiancée though it is quite clear that he wants her. Cleo doesn’t let the announcement deter her so she keeps trying different ways to entice him. This verbal and physical dance goes on for a while until Ted realizes that this might be a setup. That Cleo may or may not be a friend of his intended, sent to entice him as a test to see whether he will be loyal.
Both Mr. Coffey and Ms. Mudge work wonders with LaBute’s language and with each other. You root for this couple to get together even if you do remember the afore-mentioned fiancée. Coffey has a natural charm and here he plays against it as the uptight and awkward bridge-and-tunnel guy having to hang out in a club that he probably doesn’t want to be in, but must be, in order to entertain his foreign clients. Mudge is the mystery woman as her Cleo goes from being the coquette to being the seducer over the course of forty-five minutes.
The second play by Calvani and directed by LaBute, The Second Time features Phil Burke and Meredith Forlenza. It’s a fascinating play which starts with Ms. Forlenza in a blonde wig and dark sunglasses, who at first appears to be the seducer. But, like in Happy Hour things quickly change and the play keeps surprising you as the layers get peeled back and you think you have this couple figured out but then realize the new information changes things and where you would expect a twist from LaBute, the twist here comes unexpectedly and you will find yourself questioning the title. Desire in this play takes on a much darker meaning.
Phil Burke ups the intensity factor and his look cuts right through you. He imbues his character with passion and purpose though at times he appeared a bit mannered. Forlenza navigates several mood changes smoothly and easily makes you wonder what her true intention is, coming to her former paramour’s apartment when she suspects he may be dangerous.
I recommend both for an evening of comedy and drama. The surprising lightheartedness of LaBute’s play contrasts well with the creepy intensity of Calvani’s piece.