No one would ever accuse Neil LaBute of being an optimist. The prolific writer/director has made his name on stage and on screen (The Shape of Things, reasons to be pretty, the charmingly-titled Fat Pig) with material that tends to poke—sharply—at the murkiest, grimmest corners of human nature—especially when it comes to matters of love and sex. His latest, The Way We Get By—now playing Off Broadway at Second Stage Theatre through June 14—looks to tread some of this same fertile ground between the sexes.
LaBute’s newest two-hander opens in New York City—“middle of the night”, we’re told—in an apartment that looks and feels achingly familiar and decorated with just the right West Elm feel. Doug (Thomas Sadoski) creeps out of a bedroom clad only in boxers, skittish as an alley cat, in what seems to be a classic dude-post-one-night-stand behavior. He manages to awaken Beth (Amanda Seyfried), sporting one of his t-shirts and spoiling for a fight.
What follows is the pair tiptoeing through looping conversational figure eights over the course of 80 minutes about why winding up in bed together is an impossibly awkward situation. The reason is not necessarily what one would guess (and one we wouldn’t dream of spoiling). But it doesn’t really matter as the real pleasure to be found here is in LaBute’s typical quick and witty dialogue—peppered with pop culture references ranging from Star Wars to Chelsea Handler—and in the performances of Sadoski and Seyfried, ably directed by Leigh Silverman (Violet). The actors nimbly ping-pong through epic highs and lows as the middle of the night marches on, infusing every twitch and nervous shuffle with compelling charisma.
The writer who has been called “America’s misanthrope par excellence” appears to have had a change of heart when it comes to matters of the same organ. The Way We Get By feels like a refreshingly sunnier and more hopeful LaBute, with moments that feel suspiciously like giddy joy. B+