By Neil LaBute
Directed by Wayne Chapple
With Brett Cousins, Susan Godfrey, Christopher Kirby & Madeline French
GREEN ROOM AWARDS Nomination Best Actor: Brett Cousins, Nomination Best Production
Set Design by Penelope Thompson
Lighting by Stelios Karagiannis
Sound by Curtis Tennant
Stage Manager Jess Smithett
Assistant Stage Managers Carmel Carlin-Smith and Madeline French
This is How it Goes (April 27 – May 27, 2006) Helen Thomson, The Age 2/05/2006
Neil LaBute’s best-known play, In the Company of Men, was made into the well-known film of the same name, but This is How it Goes anatomises playwriting itself, particularly its ability to manipulate truth, time and probability. It is a complex, subtle revelation of racism’s prevasive presence in America, and its capacity to undermine moral resolve.
As the character simply called The Man, suggesting he is an everyman figure, Brett Cousins gives a stunning performance, one that develops in complexity from his first appearance as narrator, engagingly taking us into his confidence, to the end when our feelings towards him are a mixture of contempt, pity and dislike.
He is, as he warns us, an unreliable narrator, and demonstrates this by giving us alternative versions of scenes in the play he is simulataneously narrating, participating in and “writing”. We must decide where the truth lies as the story of a marriage gone sour, a complicated love triangle, and the “trade” of a woman by two men, unravels in scenes that sometimes contradict one another.
White girl Belinda marries a high-school sports hero, African-American Cody, but 12 years and two children later they seem locked in mutual animosity and anger. when their old school friend rents their garage apartment, jealousy and rage soon start to tear them apart. Or that’s what one series of scenes suggests. Others construct a different narrative.
The Man keeps freezing the action to come front stage and confide in us. He is charming and candid, drawing us into complicity with jokes and smiles.
What he doesn’t do is draw our attention to the corrosive, racial subtext that keeps surfacing in his narrative, giving us nasty little shocks that undermine his engaging charm. terms like “nigger” are only words, he assures us, but there is a real black man engaged in the action here.
As Cody, Christopher Kirby creates a compellingly complex character, but not a likeable one. Racism has two sides to it. Cody has racial and sexual scores of his own to settle, and Belinda (Susan Godfre) becomes a pawn in the men’s game.
Director Wayne Chapple and his fine cast give this intriguing, disturbing play a first-class production: vivid, sharp and shocking.
Bill Perrett, The Sunday Age 15/5/2006
The title of Neil LaBute’s play is the formula repeated by the Man, its unnamed narrator, as he introduces the play and each of its scenes. He’s an ex-lawyer, coming back to the American small town he grew up in, planning to try to begin a career as a writer. Outside the local Sears, he meets Belinda, with whom he was at high school and for whom he had an unrequited, even unnoticed, passion. Belinda is now unhappily married to African-American Cody, who was a track star at the high school. He now runs his father’s business, successfully.
The Man is looking for a place to live; Belinda and Cody have just finished building a small apartment over their garage; he moves in. The rest of the plot weaves its way to its final – sort of – resolution by way of some unexpected twists. But it’s LaBute’s narrative method, with its slides in notions of truth and morality, that makes this such a fascinating piece.
The Man from the outset is a disarmingly frank and amiable storyteller. He retells some scenes in different ways – how did Belinda get that black eye? – and admits that he may have rejigged certain elements of the action to suit his own prejudices and fantasies. From the outset he warns us, “I think I might end up being an unreliable narrator”. He is played with a boyish charm by Brett Cousins, who is just right for the part, which also requires a harder and less pleasant register. It turns out that the Man lost his job as a lawyer by causing a nasty scene on a plane. And yet he’s such an appealing character, and the story is told with so much self-effacement and good humour, that it has audiences wondering about some of their own values.
Added to this, Cody is a fairly bristly and unpleasant character; could it be, you find yourself wondering, that he’s overreacting to the remarks? LaBute’s skill is in making us confront our own beliefs and be unsure about the truth, especially as it is represented in stories: “The second you start telling somebody what the truth is – how it goes – it all starts to slip away,” says the Man.
Christopher Kirby as Cody and Susan Godfrey as Belinda are simply terrific, and Madeline French makes a fine waitress. Assured and complex direction by Wayne Chapple.