LaBute has built a career (In the Company of Men, Bash, The Shape of Things, Fat Pig) on a raft of despicable characters, nearly all of them male. So it’s a shock at first to meet the man played by Corey Volence in Greater Orlando Actors Theatre’s production of LaBute’s dark 2005 comedy Some Girl(s) – a guy who is hapless and inarticulate, a guy you wouldn’t notice in a crowd.
That LaBute has surprises in store is pretty much a given for those who’ve seen his other work. But the unnamed man at the center of GOAT’s production throws this show for a loop. In the hands of Volence, he’s just a nincompoop, and that makes you wonder about the sanity of everyone else in the play.
Some Girl(s), you see, is one of those comedies (the movies are full of them) in which somebody goes back and digs up all the romantic partners in his or her past. In this case, it’s a guy identified here as Guy, who flies around the country looking up women he thinks he’s wronged and making feeble attempts to set things right.
One is a woman he dumped in high school. One is a free spirit. One is an older woman, a professor at a college where he taught. All bear some bruises, and all are still hung up, in one way or another, on the pain and the indignities the guy brought about.
All of this takes place in a series of anonymous hotel rooms across the country, which in director Paul Castaneda’s production turn out to be a single bedroom set that undergoes small but noticeable transformations between scenes. Castaneda has brought together a quintet of strong actresses, and each of them makes her presence felt. But the production’s leisurely feeling, along with its miscast central character, robs Some Girl(s) of most of its bite.
That’s a shame, because even though each actress is onstage only for 20 minutes or so, there are some effective performances here. Jennifer Bonner finds some quirky, unexpected humor in Sam, the woman who missed her prom 15 years before, and Renee Wilson brings plenty of allure to the aggressive, easy-to-bed Tyler. As Lindsay, the so-called older woman, Leesa Halstead finds lots of comical power in having the upper hand (although she’s saddled with a bad and unnecessary Boston accent); Olivia Horn brings the same sense of control of the situation to her matter-of-fact, takes-no-prisoners Bobbi.
And, in a scene that was added after the London and New York productions, Emily Killian is terrific as Reggie, the provocative young woman whose flirtation with Guy has marked her in ways that are likely to last forever.
The fact that LaBute added this harrowing scene later in the game may make you wonder about the rest of Some Girl(s), which often comes off, despite the vivid portrayals, as half-baked. It’s hard to believe that a woman would be stewing about her lack of a prom date 15 years post-high school – or, in fact, that most of these women wouldn’t have laughed off this unhappy alliance long since. (Note to the playwright: That’s what women tend to do.)
It’s hard to believe that they all come willingly to the guy’s hotel room, and that he keeps putting himself through all of this – until you find out why he does. In the meantime, you’re just puzzled.
And it’s hard to believe that any of these women would be obsessed with a guy as callow as this one, a guy who corrects their grammar but can’t put two sentences together to save his life. (You begin to think that George W. Bush wrote the dialogue.) Volence’s stumbling and stammering are funny, but his character isn’t the kind of man who women go nuts for. And without that charisma, the play just doesn’t make sense.
By play’s end you see that LaBute has something else in mind (and he must have had a reason, which doesn’t come across, why he gave all the women men’s names). But Some Girl(s) doesn’t seem to be the play LaBute thought it was, and whatever fury it might have had comes across as pretty tamed. GOAT has tried with this production to push the outside of the envelope. Too bad that the good work here adds up to a series of acting exercises, nothing more.
What: Greater Orlando Actors Theatre production of Neil LaBute comedy.
Where: Mandell Studio Theater, Lowndes Shakespeare Center, 812 E. Rollins St., Orlando.
When: 8 p.m. Aug. 20, 21, 23, 26 and 27, 2 p.m. Aug. 22 and 29.
Cost: $18 general, $15 seniors and students.
(Photo, top row, Jennifer Bonner, Leesa Halstead, Renee Wilson. Bottom row, Olivia Horn, Corey Volence, Emily Killian. Photo courtesy of Greater Orlando Actors Theatre.)