Bash – Players Theatre – Review by Keith Thompson
Bash by Neil La Bute @ Players Theatre until 29 July
Originally published in 1995, bash has been unsettling audiences for more than 20 years. Essentially composed of three distinct but complimentary monologues, it explores the pitiless violence that simmers beneath the veneer of a happy, domestic life.
In just two of the pieces, iphigenia in orem and medea redux, Neil La Bute was greatly inspired by Euripides, yet in all three, the violence and tragedy are inescapably Greek. The characters are everyday: a businessman father of three, a young couple on their anniversary, an abandoned single mother. Their lives are unexceptional. And perhaps the violence is too. Labute is asking us whether the horrifying acts they’ve committed are so alien to us? Or do those choices lurk within us too? As the ‘Woman’ in medea redux says, “The only thing that’s interesting is that it happened to me right?”
This production by Out of Time theatre succeeds for the most part, primarily by not getting in its own way. The staging is fittingly bare. In the darkness the only set we can discern consists of a nondescript chair and side-table that lie beneath the sickly, hospital green glow of a fluorescent light. Emily Maher’s direction is similarly sparse and assured. She has wisely rejected any temptation to embellish the action and has brought focus and clarity to each piece. One or two deviations from this winning formula, especially during the disco-ball lit ‘bash’ of the title, are exceptions that prove this rule.
In ‘Iphigenia in Orem’ Patrick Bokin is convincing as the Young Man: a bearded, buttoned-up, hipster father of three who has started travelling more for work since the death of his youngest child. His soft-tones and amiable features betray a deep-rooted misogyny, primarily aimed at a female colleague. It is his fixation on competing with her to keep his job that leads to his hideous crime. In ‘A Gaggle of Saints’ Patrick McConnell Flannery as John and Ciara Andrea Murphy as Sue are well cast as stereotypical high-school sweethearts, celebrating their anniversary with a ‘bash’ in New York. Following the party Sue sleeps whilst John and his friends find a much more horrifying way of, quite literally, getting their kicks. Finally, in ‘Medea Redux’, Deirdre Jones is the Woman, a chain-smoking, shambling, pub-philosopher, forgetting her train of thought and rambling her way to one of the play’s most shocking revelations.
This production has only two significant drawbacks. First, coming in at two hours, it significantly drags towards the end. Much of this is due to a lack of pace in the final piece where Jones’s Woman is inclined to give too much weight to each defeat suffered, each injury inflicted. Regrettably, as a result, the climax of her tale misses its mark.
Second is in fact one of the most controversial elements of the play: all these characters are Mormons. La Bute was raised a Mormon and when bash began to garner public attention in 1999, prompting headlines that screamed ‘Murderous Mormons’, the church swiftly ‘disfellowshipped’ him, one step short of excommunication.
When a revival was produced in London in 2004, La Bute updated the script, removing all the explicitly Mormon references. His intention, however, was not to placate the church, but to make the play’s impact more universal. Talking to The Guardian in 2014 he said, “It allowed those who were not Mormons to detach themselves from it…that couldn’t be me because I’m not a Mormon.” He was right. This production, which sticks to the older script, does not have that universality. We are not asked to examine our own prejudices. We are let off the hook.
It is fascinating to see a play like this, 20 years after its premiere. There is no doubt that it remains a powerful, unsettling piece of theatre, but there is a legitimate question as to whether its relevance has dimmed. The misogyny and homophobia displayed throughout are undoubtedly grotesque, but in an Ireland where gay marriage is legal, and the Waking the Feminists movement has advanced the cause of equality by leaps and bounds, is it plausible to ask if the battleground has shifted? Are the monsters still the obvious ones of church and state, or is it time to take a look closer to home?