(STUDIO THEATER, STAGE 4; 100 SEATS; $25 TOP)
WASHINGTON, D.C. A Studio Theater Secondstage presentation of a cycle of short plays by Neil LaBute. Directed by Erica Gould. Set and lighting, Colin K. Bills: costumes, Kathleen Geldard. Opened Jan. 15, 2006. Reviewed Jan. 18. Running time: 2 HOURS, 25 MIN.
With: Scott Kerns, Veronica del Cerro, Darius Suziedelis, Vanessa Vaughn, Karen Novaek, Elizabeth Richards, Jesse Terrill, Paloma Ellis, James Konicek, Cecil E. Baldwin.
In "Autobahn," Neil LaBute has written a provocative series of playlets featuring characters seated in cars that each conclude with a squirm-inducing twist. Although the device becomes somewhat repetitive as the skits unfold, it's a clever collection certain to please LaBute's expanding legion of devotees.
The six one-acts typically feature a pair of travelers, one decidedly chattier than the other and revealing of a character flaw or unsettling event to an unnerved companion. They're presented on a raw stage featuring a straight line of chairs and a single steering wheel that follows the spotlight. They also reveal LaBute's well-known gift for dialogue that adroitly illuminates plot and personality.
In the opening "Bench Seat," for example, a teenage couple are parked on a lovers' lane engaged in adolescent discussion of their relationship. But slowly, the female (played innocently by Veronica del Cerro) reveals a vindictive streak that would make "Fatal Attraction" seem tame.
In "Merge," husband James Konicek is driving wife Vanessa Vaughn home from a business trip, where she sheepishly reveals engaging in extracurriculars that most spouses would disapprove of.
In "Road Trip," a young girl is being driven across the country by an elderly male teacher. She is respectful but clearly nervous as he patronizes her en route to a secret destination, methodically confirming our fears about his intentions. It is a very effective piece featuring Jesse Terrill and a poised Paloma Ellis.
The world premiere, staged by Erica Gould, is part of an ongoing three-play LaBute festival at Studio Theater that also includes "Fat Pig" and "Seconds of Pleasure," an hour of readings from his short-story collection. It follows the success here during the 2002-03 season of LaBute's "The Shape of Things."
"Autobahn" recently was workshopped by Gould at the Cape Cod Theater Project and figured in a New York benefit with Brian Dennehy, Amanda Peet and Susan Sarandon.