Theatre's own embedded reporter in the Battle of the Sexes is at it again. This time, though, Neil LaBute isn't documenting man's victory over woman or woman's victory over man. His new play, Some Girl(s), which MCC is producing at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, describes a complete stalemate: man and woman both win and ultimately both lose.
So it should not be unexpected that this play ranks as one of LaBute's more unsatisfying. After all, aren't decisive victories usually the most exciting? This play, which is as competently written as it is unengaging, seems to have sprung from LaBute expressly for the purpose of defusing the charges of misogyny that frequently trail him like a lovesick puppy.
Perhaps that's a worthy goal for this playwright, who's taken his fair share of lumps for films and plays like In the Company of Men, The Shape of Things, and last year's Fat Pig, few of which paint women in a particularly compassionate light. But did he need to deprive us of his uniquely provocative voice in order to achieve it? Some Girl(s), which has been adequately directed by Jo Bonney, feels as deliberately uncontroversial as the furniture in Neil Patel's scenic design that's been donated by the Kimpton Hotel chain in which the play's four scenes are set.
Each takes place in a different city (Seattle, Chicago, Boston, and Los Angeles) as an unnamed, mid-30s man (Eric McCormack) attempts to close the books on his love life before tying the knot. He's traveling around the country to touch base with the women who meant the most to him - his first love (Brooke Smith), his wild love (Judy Reyes), his older love (Fran Drescher), and his true love (Maura Tierney) - but who he feels he's wronged in some way.
Who's really wrong and who's really right depends on the woman, and the distinctions between the two are often predictably blurry. Did the guy ditch Sam (Smith) to go to another school's prom with someone else? Was he still in love with Bobbi (Tierney) while testing all imaginable sexual waters with Tyler (Reyes)? Was he wrong for walking out on the married Lindsay (Drescher) after they spent one year together?
Most importantly: Should we care? The issues arising here, about the degree to which men and women need each other and whether an artist's inspiration belongs to him or the people who affect his life (McCormack plays a writer who's just hit it big), are uncharacteristically and unwisely jejune for LaBute, whose last new play in New York (This is How it Goes) dealt with the insidiousness of American racism in bitterly frank terms.
A work as sterile, as unsurprising, and as unentertaining as this one feels like a step backward for a playwright who - despite his other inconsistencies as a writer - has always been adventurous. LaBute's writing here is unusually uncomfortable, never popping or startling the way his best dialogue does; when the sole memorable line involves a Williams-Sonoma gift certificate, something is amiss. This safety infuses everything from Bonney's direction (only notable only for its scene-shifting stagehands, costumed by Mimi O'Donnell as hotel housekeeping staff) to the casting with an inescapable enh-ness.
Take, for example, McCormack, who just completed his run on NBC's Will & Grace and is still a hot commodity. His stage persona, if more aptly utilized here than in his disastrous turn in The Music Man a few years back, is only half a step removed from his oddly iconic Will Truman, when a more energetic reversal is required. This man is the murderer masquerading as the victim, or perhaps the murderer who just thinks he's the victim, not the straight-man lynchpin for a kooky-funny foursome.
Yet he approaches both characters in almost the same way, and Will's more keenly developed nesting instincts are out of place for this guy, despite what he might tell you. (Yes, doubts arise about why he's marrying his new flame.) And without this more textured, conflicted center, the women orbiting him are constantly in eclipse. No one suffers more than Smith, who's utterly unanchored and unconvincing as a spurned adolescent affair, but while Tierney (herself a TV veteran) and especially Reyes shine more brightly, their concerns seem hardly more urgent.
The wishy-washiness ebbs only when Drescher's aging, scheming seductress tries to settle the score for her long-ago abandonment. Drescher, as well known for the TV series The Nanny as for her piercingly nasal Queens accent, is subdued to the point of unrecognizability, so vanishing behind long, straight hair, carefully considered words, and calculated passive-aggressiveness that when she strips to her underwear, you can't help but gasp at the naked daring and depth she's too seldom conveyed elsewhere.
Sadly, Drescher pushes too far, becomingly overly affected and, in her own way, as unbelievable as everyone else. But she's at least taking risks, something neither LaBute, McCormack, nor anyone else could be bothered to do in Some Girl(s).