Michael Hogan and Clea Alsip in What Happens in Vegas,


by Carole Di Tosti

Once again the LaBute New Theater Festival proves to be a rollicking evening of marvelous mayhem with surprising sardonic twists you won’t see coming until they are upon you. The evening of four one-act plays slips by quickly because of the faultless direction, clever staging, functional set design and precise timing. All combine to create a neat package of entertainment with clever undertones.
Three of the one-acts have received their world premieres at past LaBute New Theater Festivals at St. Louis Actor’s Studio Gaslight Theater. The fourth is the world premiere of Neil LaBute’s What Happens In Vegas, directed by Kel Haney.

What Happens in Vegas is the first play of the evening which sets up the other one-acts with its comedic pacing and fine execution by actors Michael Hogan and Clea Alsip. LaBute’s Vegas is a humorous take on an effective sexual business model that turns the concept of “professional working girl” on its head until one remembers that the setting is Vegas where people are lured to spend more money than they initially bargained for. This is especially true for the “Johns” who, in the long run, are convinced by the beauty and “loving” nature of their partners to throw it all on a “roll in the hay.” Vegas is replete with a menu of intriguing sexual buzz words and tropes which are startling and hysterical, and topped by an ending which we are led to with a willing ring in our noses.

In American Outlaws written by Adam Seidel, directed by John Pierson, Seidel keeps us guessing throughout the suspenseful confrontation between the sinister, logical Martin (Justin Ivan Brown), and the milk-toast, accountant Mitch (Eric Dean White), who hires Martin to murder his wife Sharon. The tables are turned on Mitch with a double-cross that zig-zags back and forth until his head is spinning and he is forced to make a decision whose results may be interpreted in a number of ways. A prime clue is in Martin’s parting words to Mitch about Sharon, his wife.


Eric Dean White and Justin Ivan Brown in American Outlaws


  In Homebody written by Gabe McKinley, directed by John Pierson, the great American undiscovered novelist Jay (Mark Hogan) lives and cares for his complaining, aging mother (Donna Weinsting). Though the two apparently love each other, their relationship is peppered with insults and sharp retorts that are cringingly funny. Jay is emotionally contorted by his failed writing career and inability to support himself and his mother is frustrated at Jay’s attitude and refusal to cater to her. Playwright McKinley reveals his showmanship with witty dialogue and plot diversions as we watch Jay become the plaything of fate, at once moving from failure to a brilliant coup and back to the abyss once more. However, his mother assures him that she believes he is a great writer. She shows that she is willing to back up her praise with active determination. It is her love that rescues his failed writing career from oblivion and translates it to glory. This comes about in a sardonic ending delivered with wonderful skill by Hogan and Weinsting, who create a stunning mother-son relationship courtesy of McKinley’s marvelous, funny dialogue.


Donna Weinsting and Michael Hogan in Homebody

In the brilliant farce Mark My Worms by Cary Pepper, directed by Michael Hogan, effete director John (Justin Ivan Brown), research-driven actress Gloria (Clea Alsip), and logic-driven actor Mason (Eric Dean White), attempt a reading of a renowned playwright’s script. The play, which promises to be an imminently profitable and everlasting hit on Broadway comes with a few difficulties. The deceased playwright’s estate has contracted the actors to deliver the lines exactly as the playwright has typed them. To Mason’s frustration the script is filled with typos that crazify the dialogue. Thus, the actors and director are compelled to make logic and sense of what is ridiculous and absurd. But they show themselves to be great artists. By the end of the read, we are amazed at how they are able to pull off the absurd with bravado, skill and logic.


Clea Alsip, Eric Dean White, and Justin Ivan Brown in Mark My Worms

Pepper’s play is pure, comical genius. Justin Ivan Brown, Clea Alsip and Eric Dean White are exceptional. I and audience members were doubled over snorting in laughter from start to finish.
The triumphant LaBute New Theater Festival is at 59E59 Theaters on 59 East Fifty-Ninth Street. The production has one intermission and is a little over two hours. It runs until 5 February 2017.

Photos: Carol Rosegg


For show times and ticket purchase, visit their website: http://www.59e59.org