Emdashes—Modern Times Between the Lines

The Basics:
About Emdashes | Email us

Before it moved to The New Yorker:
Ask the Librarians

Best of Emdashes: Hit Parade
A Web Comic: The Wavy Rule


Drama Review: Neil LaBute's "Wrecks," Bush Theatre, London

Filed under: On the Spot   Tagged: , , , , , ,

Martin Schneider writes:

Emdashes is a supporter of all forms of live performance, particularly theater, music, and comedy. Friend of Emdashes (and occasional contributor) Quin Browne clearly shares this credo; indeed, she opens her review of the London production of Neil LaBute's Wrecks with an identical declaration. Quin helped Emdashes cover the 2007 New Yorker Festival, when she reported on Neil LaBute's lively session with John Lahr. We consider this post a felicitous continuation of that one. Enjoy.


There really is nothing like theater.

I had seen Wrecks, written and directed by Neil LaBute, at the Public Theater in New York when it premiered there. I paid for my ticket, I sat in the back row, and I spent the evening on the edge of my seat, leaning forward, chin on hands, while Ed Harris charmed all of us, leading us down the darkish path of Ed Carr, a man who had just lost his beloved wife, JoJo.

When I was notified by the Bush Theatre in London it would be playing during my time here, my actor friend Loo and I decided to see it, so I could enjoy the play again, and she could take it in for the first time. LaBute wasn't directing, but it was still one of his works, and I do like my LaBute.

The U.K. version starred Robert Glenister and was directed by the Bush's artistic director, Josie Rourke. Once again, it was a stark, simple set: you walk in, and you are confronted by a casket, nothing more.

It tips you off that this will not be your average play.

And that it isn't. It's a 75-minute monologue, delivered by Ed, who takes your hand and leads you down the path of his life, which includes his being raised in foster homes, his discovery of his JoJo, and their courtship and subsequent life together. He tells of his passion for restoring old wrecked classic cars and of their success turning it into a profitable business. He touches lightly on their two daughters and JoJo's two sons from her previous marriage. The whole focus of his life, it seems, was JoJo, the business—oh, and his almost equally beloved cigarettes, which he puffs all through the show— Wait! You mind if he smokes? You would deny a grieving widower anything in his time of sorrow?

I'm a huge fan of LaBute's. Unlike some, I don't find him to be misogynistic in any way. I actually think his men tend to come off as the cads, the wimps, the fearful ones, the ones who don't quite get what life is all about, who make promises they will never keep. I have maintained that his work has a solid bedrock built on the subject of love—how we abuse it, use it, discard it, steal, cheat, lie, and destroy other people in its name. This particular play is an excellent example of that theory: what we do for love.

This is a lovely, rich, intense monologue, one that holds you steady for the full 75 minutes, a stream-of-consciousness discussion, occasionally referring to the sounds of his other "self" and the other voices that are occasionally piped in, that nice way he has of delivering it, a twist that makes you go, "WTF??" in the last few moments of the show. I heard a nice big gasp from the audience, showing it had been pulled in and rightfully shocked by that moment.

After watching Harris, I was a bit concerned. I mean, Ed Harris? He has you from the first moment with his "join me for a bit of soul searching" smile and those eyes that are a richer blue than you can imagine, crinkling in laughter and smiles, something deep and sad in them the entire time.

Glenister didn't disappoint. He had a different take on his character, a different delivery, a different pronunciation of "mimeograph" (these things matter!). But he, too, pulled you in, took you with him in his woven storyline; even knowing the twist, I still experienced a slight shock.

The two productions were alike in set, yet vastly different. The Harris work had a shiny black casket, and a very American feel to the funeral setting. The Bush set design is a bit more British: a wood casket, smaller flowers, and a photo of the beloved. Glenister is a shade more casual in his dress, Harris being very crisp in his mourner's attire. The Bush only seats around 86 people, so there was a wonderful intimate feeling you didn't get from the Public.

I was pleased by Glenister's dialect—he sounded very American, and an unconvincing American dialect has caused issues in other London productions of American plays. He carried the flat sound of the Midwest effectively, and I didn't find it jarring or annoying at all, just, well, American.

LaBute's script is woven with humor, loss, pride, and that evasive love. His words cling to you, attached to your memory after you've left the theater. The lines can soar past, then bounce back to hit you with a solid "THWACK!" Afterward, Loo and I went to a restaurant and I overheard a group discussing the play, discussing with awe and passion their version of four words Ed whispers to his dying Jo (which we never hear). It was interesting to hear other viewpoints, and a compliment to the playwright that the dinner discussion was not what to order but the play and what! and why! and wow!

I highly recommend this play, should you have a chance to see it. London theater remains very affordable; these tickets were less than 18 pounds. The Bush is an amazing venue, and the subject of a petition signing to keep it from closing last year.

Ed Carr is a multilayered, diverse, complex, controlling man who never gave up in his desire to find and keep love. He would do anything for love—anything.

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, it may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Thanks for waiting.)

2008 Webby Awards Official Honoree