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San Francisco by Richard Connema

An Engrossing Production of
Neil LaBute's This Is How It Goes


Gabriel Marin and Aldo Billingslea
The Aurora Theatre Production of Neil Labute's three character play This Is How It Goes is clever, perverse, and appallingly, disturbingly realistic in its examination of race, racism and misogyny. As the Chicago Tribute raved, "LaBute's play has a lot of sting and nothing is as it seems." This playwright's work induces tremendous agitation, and members of the audience will get provoked and then they just might get prudish or maybe exhilarated. There is never anything in between. There is a sly and gentle viciousness running through his cast of characters.

This is probably not LaBute's greatest work, but it is an enthralling depiction of all-too-human cruelty and insensitivity, which the playwright never shies away from. As the nameless antihero of The Is How It Goes would put it: "calling a spade a spade."

This Is How It Goes starts with an unnamed untrustworthy narrator (Gabriel Marin) describing the return home to his small Midwest birthplace. Early in the play, Man explains to the audience that he is an "unreliable narrator" and you should keep this in mind.

Man meets, apparently by chance, his old high school chum Belinda (Carrie Paff). He tells the audience that he was a fat nerd who had the "hots" for her while in high school but she never responded romantically. Belinda was the steady girlfriend to Cody (Aldo Billingslea), a track star. She is now married to Cody.

Belinda and Cody appear to be a typical Midwestern couple: teenage sweethearts, children, luxurious home. Typical, except that Cody is "rich, black and different" in the words of Belinda. She soon finds herself involved with her former classmate. As the battle for her affections is waged, Belinda and Cody double the groundwork of their initial magnetism. This opens the door wide to a swath of bigotry and betrayal.

The racism in This Is How It Goes is shocking, although only because of the manner in which it is acknowledged aloud—so is the appalling everyday misogyny of the piece. The dialogue between Man and Belinda is a testimony to LaBute's unfaltering ability to get the contemporary vernacular just right. The playwright's ear is absolute as the good-humored, slightly anxious to please Man and the warm, slightly susceptible Belinda falter and banter, infusing casual conversation with a vibe that hints at something less casual and more complex in the future.

Well directed by Tom Ross, the play offers a taut 90 minutes with a well-orchestrated cast. He elicits a trio of utterly believable performances from the ensemble. Aldo Billingslea is outstanding as Cody. He achieves the almost impossible feat of finding vicarious layers of susceptibility within the cold, cantankerous, controlling Cody. Carrie Paff is wonderful as the subservient wife Belinda. She displays an aura of splintered confidence that seduces the audience by degrees. Gabriel Marin is perfect as the undependable Man. He gives a sumptuously mannered performance. He hurls harsh racial slurs at Cody; whether his bigotry is, as he claims, an unfunny joke, the product of deep seated racism, or his hated for Cody is for the audience to decide.

Kim A. Tolman's set is spare, with a wall of sheet paper with writing covering the back wall of the three-sided stage. However, with the lighting by Kurt Landisman it reflects the meaning of the drama.

This Is How It Goes is appropriately dedicated to Harold Pinter since LaBute shares Pinter's enthrallment with unverifiable truth and psychological manipulation. Pinter is more understated whereas LaBute directly confronts our uneasiness with prickly truths.

Aurora Theatre Company's This Is How It Goes run through July 28 at their theatre located at 2081 Addison Street, Berkeley. For tickets call 510-843-4822 or visit www.auroratheatre.org. Coming up next will be Amy Herzog's After the Revolution opening on August 30 and running through September 29th.


Photo: David Allen


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema



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