This Is How It Goes
Also see Susan's review of Desire Under the Elms
The biggest challenge in writing about This Is How It Goes, the Neil LaBute play now at Washington's Studio Theatre, is how to describe it without giving anything away. This tightly constructed, incisive 90-minute drama uses three characters to examine the nature of relationships, racial and personal identity, and ultimately the meaning of truth.
On the surface, the play concerns a young man (Eric Feldman) who returns to his midwestern hometown and meets a former high school classmate, Belinda (Anne Bowles), who is married to another classmate, Cody (Benton Greene). The tensions soon become apparent: Cody is African-American, Belinda and the other man are white, and Cody is a successful businessman, while the other man has left his law practice under vague circumstances to write full-time. Belinda – whom the narrator calls a "girl," although the characters are all close to 30 – is a full-time homemaker and mother.
LaBute tips his hand immediately as the unnamed narrator discloses: "I might end up being an unreliable narrator." While he recounts (what might be) his perception of the events, he admits that he wasn't present for some of the scenes he describes, and occasionally offers alternative interpretations. The total experience is disorienting and difficult to hold onto, but richly worth the effort.
The three performers have given a lot of thought to the way they present their characters. These are multi-faceted roles as created, filled with self-contradictions, and Feldman, Bowles and Greene make them utterly believable throughout.
Director Paul Mullins focuses the attention on individual moments that eventually tell the entire story by forming a mosaic; there's a sense that the characters are being examined like bacteria through a microscope. Debra Booth's sleek, featureless scenic design and Michael Chybowski's inconspicuous lighting design add to the feeling of human lives being treated as clinical specimens.