|Kirk Gostkowski and Ashleigh Murray in SOME GIRL(S). Photo by Olivia Nolan.|
Variations Theatre Group (VTG) is closing out its fourth season with a bang – a wonderful revival of Neil LaBute’s Some Girl(s) at the Chain Theatre in Long Island City. That, of course, came to me as no surprise: back in 2009-10, VTG’s initial production of another Neil LaBute play, The Shape of Things, starring Kirk Gostkowski and directed by Rich Ferraioli (VTG’s co-founders and co-Artistic Directors), blew me away. And VTG’s subsequent revivals of Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love and Arthur Miller’s After the Fall (both also directed by Ferraioli and starring Gostkowski) were equally impressive. So with Gostkowski starring in Some Girl(s) and Farraioli producing (even if not directing this one), my expectations were understandably high. And I was not disappointed.
What did surprise me though is that, despite the consistent excellence of its productions, VTG remains one of the best kept theatrical secrets in the New York area. Indeed, at the performance of Some Girl(s) that I attended, there were fewer occupied seats than empty ones. Maybe parochial Manhattan theatre goers are simply reluctant to make the short hop across the river into Long Island City, even for the best of reasons (I know I was at first) and, if so, that is unfortunately their loss.
The story line of Some Girl(s) is simple and direct: Guy (Kirk Gostkowski), a successful teacher and aspiring writer, has just gotten engaged but, before getting married, he has decided to look up his ex-girlfriends and attempt to make amends to them for any injuries he might have caused them in their earlier relationships. To that end, he arranges to meet each of them in a hotel room in her home town. The ex-girlfriends are a predictable lot and the manner of Guy’s prior use, abuse and/or abandonment of them turns out to have been similarly unsurprising.
Sam (Amber Bogdewiecz) was Guy’s Seattle high school sweetheart who he dumped just before the prom. Tyler (Ashleigh Murray) was his sexually adventurous partner in Chicago. Lindsay (Kathryn Neville Brown) was the older married college professor with whom he took up as a graduate student in Boston. And Bobbi (Jill Durso) may have been the only woman he ever truly loved (although maybe that was really her twin sister, Billi, that he loved after all). Of course he had assured each and every one of them that she was “the one” and perhaps he even meant it at the time he said it but, what really comes across is that, to Guy, women are a pretty fungible commodity and his own hedonist selfishness is so extreme that their feelings never even enter into his considerations.
Each of Guy’s exes, in her own way, does an exceptional job of expressing her ambivalent attitudes toward her former lover. Sam has married, has become a mother, and has gotten on with her life, but her nuanced performance suggests that the damage Guy did to her never fully healed. Tyler exudes sexuality but she uses her sex as a scalpel, as if to suggest to Guy just what he might have lost by abandoning her. Lindsay, who may be the most unforgiving of the lot, uses her sex to torment Guy as well, but more as a sledge than a scalpel. And it is Bobbi who succeeds in torturing him with words, rather than her sexuality, who brings about his ultimate denouement – if, indeed, that is what it is.
But why has Guy acted so out of character in seeking to atone for his past sins? Well, as it turns out, there may have been more to his apparently aberrant behavior than first met the eye.
The play is set in a series of nearly identical hotel rooms in Seattle, Chicago, Boston and Los Angeles, the only characteristics distinguishing one room from another being the different paintings on the walls, all having been created by Stephanie Ferraioli (the show’s Scenic Artist and Rich Ferraioli’s wife). The interchangability of the rooms (other than for the paintings) sharply underscores the fungibility of the women in Guy’s life as he perceives them.
When LaBute first wrote this play, those were all of the characters in it but, sometime after it was first produced, he decided that something was missing and added another scene with one more character, Reggie, the kid sister of Guy’s childhood friend. The scene with Reggie is an add-on – the play can be performed with or without it – but LaBute has suggested that a “daring” theatre company might attempt it. Since VTG’s “goal is to produce intellectually engaging, muscular theatre” and since it defines “muscular theatre” as “strong, visceral language that elicits from the audience the experience of live raw emotion,” it is not surprising that it opted to include the add-on scene with the Reggie character (Jaclyn Sokol).
Personally, I would have preferred if that character and scene had been omitted. I found Guy’s past relationship to the twelve-year-old Reggie to be gratuitously jarring and disturbing and one that was not at all necessary for our understanding of Guy’s persona as an adult. But that is not to be taken as a criticism of Sokol’s performance in any way: indeed, I thought that the emotional depth of her performance was extraordinary. I just would have preferred if LaBute had never written her role into the play in the first place or, given that he did, if VTG had chosen to produce the play without that add-on scene.
But that is a minor quibble. Overall this is an excellent production, right up there with the rest of VTG’s shows. It’s well worth a trip across the river.