Two vastly different brothers confront their traumatic past in Neil LaBute’s latest offering In a Dark Dark House, a mysteriously twisted tale of sibling rivalry and abuse that despite a powerfully volatile performance by Frederick Weller in the central role, curiously lacks tension. MCC Theater is presenting the world premier of the new drama Off-Broadway at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, where the play opened a limited run engagement just last week.
Directed by Carolyn Cantor the evening feels measured and some of the acting is uneven without a sustaining emotional life to drive the brother’s conflict. There is a self conscious quality to the staging that gives the impression Cantor didn’t trust the playwright, but it’s hard to tell. The tale is most certainly engaging, but little about the unfolding story crackles and pops with organic vitality.
A writer for both stage and screen Mr. LaBute’s clever storytelling reveals an excellent ear for dialogue and a knack for divulging ugly injustices. He is MCC Theatre’s resident playwright and since 2001 the prolific playwright has seen seven of his plays produced Off-Broadway alone. His dramas, which delve into dysfunctional behaviors, explore themes of violence and child abuse while probing the psyche to expose raw wounds, but they often follow a formula in which hidden secrets are explosively revealed near the end with surprising or devastating results. In a Dark Dark House, a three scene one-act, told in a brisk 95 minutes follows this blueprint, and in the final 15 minutes the expected requisite revelations tumble forth, but the play delivers no fresh insights.
The three character story opens on the sunny pristine grounds of a psychiatric institute where we meet the two thirty-something brothers for the first time. Although the men haven’t seen one another for several years, Drew (Ron Livingston) the younger more successful brother, a disbarred attorney, has summoned Terry to the facility, where he is in court ordered rehab. While there Drew has suddenly remembered an incident of abuse by a family friend and he wants Terry (Frederick Weller), a blue-collar security guard, to validate his recollections so he will receive more lenient treatment.
In the first scene the two men begin sparring almost immediately, but the action is stiffly mechanical. Terry is edgy and quickly put off by Drew’s use of dude and whatever, but their interactions feel labored. Mr. Livingston, who is best known for the cult favorite “Office Space,” turns in an appealing smooth performance, but nothing much is going on beneath the surface and as a result he deflates the energy necessary to bring intensity to the brother’s exchanges. Weller is tightly wound with explosive energy, struggling to maintain control, but Livingston gives him so little to play off that their scenes never become exciting or bristle with tension.
Scene two takes us to a mini golf course where Terry has gone, we believe, to enact some sort of revenge on their abusive father. He encounters a sexually precocious teenager Jennifer (Louisa Krause) but Cantor fails to infuse their scene with the underling terror necessary to rouse our emotions.
Scene three, a confrontation between the two brothers, plays out at Drew’s home where he is celebrating, but by now we have ceased to care about the brothers .Their revelations feel imposed, and the final moment seems tagged on.
By… Gordin & Christiano
Originally Published on Hamptons.com
In a Dark Dark House opened at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher Street, on June 7, 2007 for a limited run that has been extended until July 7. Tickets are available through HYPERLINK "http://www.TicketCentral.com" www.TicketCentral.com or by calling 212-279-4200.