Wednesday, 21 February 2007

Autobahn by Neil Labute, Feb 21, 2007

Autobahn by Neil Labute
By Act-O-Matic 3000
Cromwell Rd Theatre,  Wed to Sat, Feb 21 to March 3, 2007
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Neil Labute’s short play cycle is a disturbing and revealing vision of ordinary people in ordinary relationships. 

Each of the seven mini-plays is set in the front seat of a car with two characters. Some are virtually a monologue, with a silent character acting as a sounding board for the other’s obsessive chatter.

The direction, by David Ryding, is slick and focuses on the characters’ emotional drive. The cast is accomplished and Labute’s writing compelling.

In Autobahn, a woman (Brenda McKinty), the passenger, prattles anxiously to her silent husband while he drives. Their predicament unfolds slowly as she reveals that their teenage foster son has stolen their car and accused his father of abuse. Her husband’s frozen silence is powerful.

All Apologies is, like Autobahn, a monologue to a silent character. An enraged and humiliated man (Dan Walls) attempts to apologise to his coolly listening wife for his verbal abuse. Her silence makes him angrier and his rant becomes an excuse for his bad behaviour rather than an apology.

Shanrah Wakefield, in Funny, plays a young woman just out of drug rehabilitation. She talks in a stream of consciousness, gazing out the car window while her long-suffering, silent mother drives. But her languid ramblings soon become manipulative and distressing.

Merge is the first dialogue. A man (David Gardette), having collected his wife (Catherine Kohlen) from the airport after a conference, painfully unravels the truth about her sordid experience with two men in her hotel room.

In the second half, an Hispanic homeboy (Juan Modinger) drives his buddy to collect his Nintendo from an ex-girlfriend. There is an edge of danger in both the incessant ravings of the driver and the silence of the passenger.

Bench Seat is an edgy and unpredictable situation in a car when a college boy (Brett Whittingham) tries not to upset his volatile, uneducated girlfriend (Olivia Hogan) while trying to break up with her.

Perhaps the most disturbing play is Road Trip. A teenager girl (Natasha Jacobs) curls up in the passenger seat next to a man we assume to be her dad (Ron Kofler) taking her on holiday. What is revealed is far more insidious.

The performances are all skilful and the plays rivetting. Labute captures the intensity and secrets in ordinary lives.

By Kate Herbert

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