First Nighter: Neil LaBute’s “The Way We Get By” Doesn’t Get By, Simon Callow …

20 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Amanda Seyfried makes a winning (and briefly topless) New York stage debut.

NEW YORK (AP) — Mining the comedy in an awkward morning-after situation between a hung-over young man and woman, who apparently fell into bed together after a wild wedding reception, would seem like a natural for acerbic playwright Neil LaBute. NEW YORK — In the opening scene of Neil LaBute’s The Way We Get By (*** out of four stars), a young man, Doug, wanders tentatively around a living room that’s clearly not his own. The attractive twosome Doug and Beth played by Thomas Sadoski (“The Newsroom”) and Amanda Seyfried (“Mamma Mia!”) goes through the motions and hesitations — then something else hits you: LaBute, the master of corrosive misoygny, has become a sweet fool for love. It’s not just the pained walk of that man in his boxer shorts (Thomas Sadoski), lumbering across the stage like a zombie in search of brains, that commands instant pity and terror.

It helps that half of said couple is played by Amanda Seyfried, star of the movie versions of “Mamma Mia!” and “Les Misérables.” Making her stage debut opposite the reliable Thomas Sadoski (“Other Desert Cities” and TV’s “The Slap”), the leggy blonde seems comfortable enough to briefly go topless. It emerges that the two were at a party the evening before, where they arrived separately but drifted together after consuming a good deal of alcohol.

So does the what-the-hell-have-I-done expression plastered on his face like a “Wanted” sign, and the subtle, ominous hum (the throb of conscience or merely traffic in the distance?) that underscores every step he takes. More important, her emotionally vulnerable character, Beth, has a believable rapport with Sadoski’s Comic-Con–attending Doug, which helps us to care about whether their one-night stand turns into something bigger. Sadoski, who most recently appeared on Broadway in “Other Desert Cities,” previously starred in LaBute’s disturbing “Reasons to Be Pretty” both on and off-Broadway.

He may have started off as the misanthrope behind “In the Company of Men,” among other venom-laced works, but he’s evolved into something of a humanist. Look no further than last year’s sneakily progressive comedy “The Money Shot” — about the know-it-all arrogance of morons — and this new play about love. Seyfried, best known for film work (“Mama Mia!” and “Les Miserables”), is making her off-Broadway debut as one of LaBute’s more accessible female characters. Beth’s your typical high-strung young woman who tries to prove she’s not uptight by initiating acrobatic oral sex on the couch of Neil Patel’s very Design Within Reach set.

The only thing lurking in the other room turns out to be a gorgeous woman — played, as it happens, by a gorgeous movie star, Amanda Seyfried, wearing only a “Star Wars” T-shirt. When the truth of Doug and Beth’s situation, why they have known one another for years, is finally stated, a panicked Beth begs him, “Let’s let the sun come up first before we worry about what our Facebook statuses are gonna be!” Doug urges her to be less worried about what other people think. “Everyone’s got to have an opinion about this stuff,” he says, adding, “Look at us, worrying about this…with so much else going on in the world! Beth’s lament about the burden of being beautiful echoes LaBute’s earlier work, “reasons to be pretty.” Sadoski, a seasoned stage vet, is as good as it gets.

It’s hardly surprising that LaBute, whose sometimes brutal wit has long been accompanied by an equally fierce moral curiosity, would suggest such concerns. Or stay with me till the end of this paragraph, so I can say that there are several good reasons to see the show (it’s short, it’s sexy, it’s starry, it’s well acted) and others not to (it’s contrived, it’s manipulative and even at 70 minutes, too long for its limited purposes).

In her New York stage debut, Seyfried delivers a forthright, vanity-free performance, not shrinking from Beth’s flashes of selfishness and irritability. Sadoski (a star of “The Newsroom” on HBO) is a veteran stage actor, and he finds a charming assortment of vocal and kinetic variations on an arrested-development specimen we’ve all come to know well from recent fiction, film and, of course, Mr. Seyfried, whose screen work includes “Les Misérables,” “While We’re Young” and television’s “Big Love,” is new to theater, and she needs to develop her speaking voice, which at this point is small for the stage. Sadoski tend to talk at distractingly different decibel levels, there’s no denying the genuine chemistry that flickers between them, and occasionally flares into something dangerously irresistible.

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