Story: Doug wakes up and stumbles out of the bedroom in the apartment where he has spent the night. He seems out of sorts, fidgety and unsure of what to do next. He turns on the TV and then just as quickly shuts it off, hiding the remote control in the process.
When Beth comes into the living room, he notices that she’s wearing his Star Wars T-shirt. She’s much more interested in discussing the previous evening and their return to the apartment she shares with an overly tidy young woman named Kim. Doug, though, seems pre-occupied with that Star Wars shirt.
The more that Beth makes amorous advances toward Doug, the further he shies away from her. While they agree that their sex the previous night was sensational, Doug seems less than enthused about resuming love-making in the true light of morning. He has a myriad of reasons that he gives Beth, none of which seem to make very much sense, and most of which annoy and frustrate her.
What’s the story here? Does Doug actually find Beth attractive or not? By all outward appearances she looks and sounds great, and yet he backs off repeatedly. He isn’t married and he isn’t seeing anyone at the moment, he says, but still there’s something that is bothering him deep down.
Maybe Beth knows what is really on Doug’s mind after all. Maybe she has issues as well. Maybe Doug and Beth can figure out who they really are and what they actually want, both as individuals and as a pair. It might be the way they get by.
Highlights: St. Louis Actors’ Studio teams up once again with playwright Neil LaBute, who has lent his name to the company’s highly successful New Play Festival the last few years, for an amusing rendition of a one-act comedy by LaBute from 2015.
Other Info: Without giving too much away, LaBute’s premise for his 90-minute comedy is realistic enough to give his script an explanation and sufficient ballast to make it work pretty well for the most part.
It’s a difficult show to appreciate initially, primarily because the first 30 minutes are almost intolerably turgid, at least under Nancy Bell’s direction. The primary fault for that, however, belongs to the playwright, who has his two characters engage in a torturously slow verbal pas de deux that brings to mind Sisyphus pushing that boulder up a hill.
After that frustrating and annoying beginning, more substantive humor kicks in as LaBute reveals the real motives behind his characters. Bell does a fine job positioning her two players in ways that maximize the awkwardness in their moves and language, which is critical to the plot’s development.
Sophia Brown makes for a very sexy and compelling Beth, spending much of her time clad only in that Star Wars T-shirt and a pair of briefs, courtesy of costume designer Carla Landis Evans. For that matter, Andrew Rea as Doug doesn’t wear much, either, beyond the pained expression of uncertainty on his face, which he does quite well and quite often.
Both performers are convincing as they sketch out their characters as conceived by the often off-kilter LaBute, who can be considered misogynistic and even perhaps sadistic in some of the characters he presents in his various works, which often can be mean-spirited at first blush.
With The Way We Get By, LaBute keeps his audience off guard and fidgeting wondering where he’ll take these two hapless and lonely souls next. While both Beth and Doug talk about their natural ability at sexual conquests, there’s something going on in their psyches which indicates they are searching uneasily for more.
Brown is very good revealing Beth’s vulnerabilities, whether in discussing her persnickety roommate, whose parents own the apartment shared by the two young women, or in her uncertainty about what Doug, or any man , might want.
Rea is effective at being maddeningly evasive for much of the story, holding Doug’s cards ever so close to his chest as Doug contemplates how best to extricate himself from this situation that is both irresistible and uneasy to him.
Bell coaxes convincing and complex performances out of both of her players to mine LaBute’s eccentric tale for all of its surprising twists and turns once the production’s tepid beginning is left behind.
Patrick Huber’s set is an oddly colored design that seems off just enough to match the conflicting emotions felt by the two characters, with some prop peculiarities provided by Evans such as an old stereo to accentuate the ‘different’ nature of this randy, contemporary story that nevertheless has traditional roots.
The unnamed sound designer calls on The Beatles to open and close this interesting presentation in appropriately upbeat fashion. That’s a good touch because the show is, after all, a comedy, and we the audience would therefore prefer a happy ending. It’s the way we get by.
Play: The Way We Get By
Company: St. Louis Actors’ Studio
Venue: Gaslight Theater, 358 North Boyle
Dates: February 16, 17, 18, 19, 23, 24, 25, 26
Tickets: $30-$35; contact 1-800-982-2787 or ticketmaster.com
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.