This Week in Theater
Review by Rose Desena
Neil LaBute (writer) digs deep into the human psyche. His play “In Dark Dark House” deals with dishonesty and sibling rivalry as well as with emotional and physical abuse. And that’s just the beginning. It sounds like tough stuff, but LaBute’s writing style creates many layers that make the story flow, creating the right tension to keep you glued to the seat.
Drew (Shaun Sipos) is a successful high roller, exactly the kind of guy most people would hate. He is cocky and boasts about his success as if he earned it the honest way. Terry (Aaron McPherson) is a simple guy working in the blue-collar world. They are brothers who grew up in an abusive household with a dominating farther and a weak-willed mother. Nothing new here, but what starts as a simple story about disappointment and vulnerability in the garden of a rehab center, unfolds slowly and becomes a mystery with a good old-fashioned twist that hits hard in the last 12 minutes of the play.
Larry Moss directs the play by emphasizing LaBute’s intention that Terry wants desperately to leave every scene he is in. Terry’s character is a damaged individual who has never dealt with the past and would prefer not to deal with it now. A man who goes through life alone and afraid of any more pain or disappointments. His world is small and manageable just the way it is. Through no fault of his own, he is sucked in as if he were a helpless insect unexpectedly caught in a web. He is no match for his manipulative brother. LaBute is a little tricky, forcing the audience to take sides only to be confused by their decision as the story moves deeper.
I was at the production opening night. Mc Pherson’s performance seemed off, exaggerated and over-acted, but I am not sure whether that was a directorial choice, or just due to the fact that he was nervous. Understandably that was his character, but something about it didn’t work. The play’s stage set is outdoors, a garden and a miniature golf course. I kept whispering to myself; one of you sit down, on the grass or the ledge. Please stop moving. The stage at the Matrix is wide and with only two actors at a time on stage I felt there was just too much movement. The writing is intense and every word should be savored.
LaBute explores the effects of family dysfunction but takes a deep journey into the mind of two morally bankrupt and manipulative individuals who lack the ability to understand how detrimental their actions are.
I love the script, but I felt this particular production didn’t entirely work. Stagnant acting as well as distracting staging stole from the writing. There was a lack of commitment from the actors, and they didn’t go deep enough into their characters. I wanted my heart to ache from the words coming from the stage, and they just didn’t resonate sufficiently.
Some of the negative aspects of the production might get better as it runs. If you’re a LaBute fan, you might want to take a chance.
The Los Angeles premiere
In A Dark Dark House
Written by Neil LaBute
Director: Larry Moss
Through Aug. 31, with performances on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m.
Matrix Theatre 7657 Melrose Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90046 (west of Stanley Ave., between Fairfax and La Brea) 323-960-7612 or www.darkhousela.com