The LaBute New Theater Festival at 59E59 opens with a funny piece by Neil LaBute called What Happens in Vegas. It is a quirky little black comedy about a man spending time (and money) with a prostitute during a Las Vegas business trip. Michael Hogan plays him with innocent enthusiasm – well at least as innocent as a man cheated on his girlfriend can be. Clea Alsip shines as the prostitute who treats the entire business transaction as friendly possible. She is the consummate upseller, not only getting him to spend more but making him happy about doing it. What Happens in Vegas is a through away piece of fluff, but it is humorous and cleaver. Unfortunately, the three other pieces are not nearly as successful in keeping the audience’s attention.
|Michael Hogan and Clea Alsip in What Happens in Vegas|
American Outlaws, by Adam Seidel, starts as an interesting piece with a unique perspective. Mitch (Eric Dean White) is hiring a hit man to murder his wife. The hit man, Martin, is played with gusto by Justin Ivan Brown. The hook here is that the hit man is actually sleeping with the wife, and Mitch is secretly planning on killing him. A darkly comedic verbal sparring takes place in an abandoned restaurant where secrets are revealed and a deal is made. It is funny and quirky, but it then turns into a nonsensical ending (why not just kill him to start with?).
The evening continues on a downward streak with Homebody, by Gabe McKinley. Homebody is a short play about a truly horrible mother and son combination that live together in a permanent state of vitriol. The son, Michael Hogan, is a failed writer and his mother, Donna Weinsting, is the woman that never lets him forget it. It is a co-dependent relationship of ugliness that is played for pitch-black laughs. For a brief moment, it appears that the son might publish a book, and a spark of happiness shines – but is soon doused. The stated motivation for the mother’s final act is so different from everything that has come before it seems like cheating (John Kennedy Toole is the give away here).
|Michael Hogan and Donna Weinsting in Homebody|
The final piece is Mark My Worms, by Cary Pepper, and it made me wonder if they ran out of plays. Fine acting and reasonably funny writing seems wasted on a piece of theater that is closer to a knock knock joke than a one-act. The character of the director is written or performed as a throw back to the hilariously flaming homosexual. The characters of the 'actors' don't come off much better, they are done with the self-importance and faux seriousness of Jon Lovitz’ SNL character. And, like one of those old SNL sketches, they didn't know when to stop – it just wound down long after it had worn out its welcome.
All in all, it was an evening of promising talent, but one that needed a lot more mentoring to achieve the desired results.
What Happens in Vegas | Playwright: Neil Labute | Director: Kel Haney | Cast: Clea Alsip, Michael Hogan
American Outlaws | Playwright: Adam Seidel, Director: John Pierson | Cast: Justin Ivan Brown, Eric Dean White
Homebody | Playwright: Gabe McKinley | Director: John Pierson | Cast Michael Hogan, Donna Weinsting
Mark My Worms | Playwright: Cary Pepper | Director: Michael Hogan | Cast: Clea Alsip, Justin Ivan Brown, Eric Dean White