by Tracey Paleo, Gia On The Move
For his directorial debut at the Asylum Lab, Abanoub Andraous, chose stark simplicity right down to the almost bare stage, minute scenery changes and very abrupt ending, house lights up. It was a good choice.
Bash (also known as Bash: latter-day plays), written by Neil LaBute, is not a complicated series. It is a collection of three short mono-duet dramas that explore everyday evil and the complexities of life. Evil lies within all of us. We struggle to suppress it, but sometimes…we lose. In Bash, we witness more than loss. We witness horrific.
Bash is a quiet piece. There is not a lot of motion, only story-telling. The audience is meant to “sit with” this material, neutrally, as each narrative unfolds, until the crimes of the persons in these stories, meets us at the precipice of undeniable corruption.
Through the almost nonchalant “confessions” of these characters, there is a sickening and terrible realization that we are all thoroughly capable of savagery. But some of us just cross the line. Worse, we are fully adept at justifying horrible acts of violence, in this case, for money & security, for self-righteousness, belief systems, obsessive vengeance, skewed love, and — for fun. It all smacks of easy brutality, the kind that is grossly absolved by an outright rejection of ethics and morals. The perceptions of the storytellers themselves are distorted. Each has his or her own rendition of the truth and a, who-blames-who-for-what-and-how-we-all-denied-it excuse, that can make your insides writhe.
The 3 short plays themselves are not distinguished in the program. As named in LaBute’s original work they are, Iphigenia in Orem, Gaggle of Saints and Medea Redux.
Directorially, Bash, as presented, is straightforward, bordering on naive, but with a definitive thought process behind each step. Given LaBute’s material, the play’s trajectory is somewhat limited. And the work really leans on the relationship between the director’s thoughts and the actors’ delivery rather than blocking or physical stage craft.
It is impressive when a young director manages to get everything right, in order, tell a good story that is understandable, and have an audience moved by it. Here, Mr. Andraous very much succeeds.
The actors, for the most part, were executionally “on the mark.” There is some work to be done. However, John Delbarian, Shanté DeLoach, Zach McFarlane, and Yelizaveta Rybalchenko are well cast and also bring quite a lot of precision to the text. None are at all un-honed in their craft. Each of these young talents has an impressive resume and a confident ability with the material. What is missing occasionally is life; the act of everyday living that takes its toll on us all, which creates depth and resonance. Experience for an actor shows the way and I would say that all of these people have untapped potential. For now, everything is new and exploratory and not as fleshed out, not as nuanced as it could be. And that takes a lot. It’s no small thing to achieve, especially with this relatively “run-on” material and the fact the LaBute’s play sounds a bit dated occasionally in the language and in the references.
My only slight discomfort with this production is that it dragged in the middle. But it recovers its pace in the final monologue which was excellently played by actress Shante DeLoach as the Medea mother.
DeLoach’s performance was, in a word, extraordinary; believable as a mother who vengefully kills her own young son by electrocuting him in the bathtub via a tape recorder. It is a murder purposefully designed to inflict pain on a man who abandoned her at age 13 and pregnant, and who later in life finally meets his only child. She justifies her act by recounting his flicker of smugness during the encounter with the boy, for getting away with taking sexual/emotional advantage of a minor while mentoring her as her school teacher. She feels pain, but makes no excuses and stands directly in her truth – she stills loves this man, twisted as it is. It was the standout performance of the evening.
Mr. Andraous was wise to present this particular piece as a directorial choice if for no other reason but to embrace clarity; and as directed and performed, the morality and the storylines of these plays are quite loud and clear. In his program note, Mr. Andraous thanks his dedicated cast for “making my job a million times easier; and finally, for making me look like I know what I’m doing.”
I’d have to say, he’s doing, “just fine!”
A solidly realized work. Worth the ticket.
Eleventh Story Productions
Written by Neil LaBute
Directed by Abanoub Andraous.
Starring John Delbarian, Shanté DeLoach, Zach McFarlane, and Yelizaveta Rybalchenko.