written by neil labute
directed by lowell bartholomee

Awards, Nominations and NotorietyProduction Notes Reviews

The Poster But I Can't Ben Tell me, Ben! Tell me what you want Want to know what I think of? Dust off Abby Making the call Postcard image
Abby Ellie McBride
Ben Judson Jones

Production Notes

Anyone my age knows exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard JFK died. I was 5. I didnít understand it, but I can recall the day; the quiet in the street, the conversation with the big kid who explained it as we walked home early from school, and the shared emotional response of everyone around me. September 11 is the same kind of pinpoint in time for people now. We know where we were, what we were doing and weíll be able to tell anyone in great detail about the day for the rest of our lives. But the shared experience of emotion isnít the same. The sense of business as usual, including my own, among many people reveals us as a much more jaded generation. Soon after, Lowell pondered the number of people who would use the event as an opportunity to walk away from their lives and start over. When we began considering LaButeís play, some of the people who did just that had been found. A quote Iíd heard, supposedly from one of those people: ďYes, itís me. Just donít tell my mother Iím alive.Ē You just have to wonder what that personís story is.

The play was not well received in NY when it opened. Itís not the vision of how we, as a nation, reacted that people wanted to look at; but itís an excellent metaphor for how we do behave in great and small ways every day. This is what our company loves about Neil LaButeís plays and why we return to them. There are sides to humanity that are hard to see in ourselves but Labuteís characters are so human, so grounded in the same mundane wants that we all have, that you find yourself empathizing with them even as you dislike what they are doing. His characters justify extreme and out of proportion acts because of the kinds of everyday desires, fears, and prejudices we all harbor. What human tragedy isnít an out of proportion response to small, petty, every day drives? Who hasnít overlooked the harms they do, great and small, when they are feeding their own internal neediness? The play looked at selfishness using this large scale event, but ultimately was about how these people treated other people, including each other, every day. LaButeís characters respond to the same kinds impulses that we all do, and like all of us do at some point, canít see past themselves. Pain, death and sorrow not their own just doesnít register.

By the time we were ready to do this the profiteering from the event was transitioning into the profit to be made by going to war. We were fascinated by the parallels and excited about taking on these characters. But then rehearsals began. The first few weeks Jud and I could hardly get through a few hours. It was exhausting and numbing and left us lying on the floor depressed every night. My daughter tried to help me with lines but after 30 pages gave up because it was too much like fighting with each other. Lowell didnít allow us to dissolve into yelling or easy sarcasm and holding all that tension without release for so long made us all feel tense and thin. I think we were all the more careful to be kind to each other during this show because we all felt so

The Set What's Your Tombstone Going to Say? Come here, Abby You Didn't Call Stuck In from the zero I'm faking it! Make the call Thank you, Ben How Many?
beat up by it. Once we opened it was much better. We had an audience to give it away to each night. Somehow that made it easier to get to the end of the night, take off Abbyís clothes, shake off the dust, and see my friend Jud again instead of Ben.

I did find it really interesting how many people felt sorry for Ben or Abby and how many took us aside after the show and confessed that they fight just like that with their partner and were really creeped out by recognizing that in themselves. One couple recognized it, each separately, and I wonder if it changed the way they treat each other.

OK, this was cool: different topic. We didnít have the budget for the realistic set we wanted, (when do we?) and so necessity once again forced us to think outside the box (and once again for the better, but I digress). We did need to have fairly high end furniture. We rented a leather living room set and as chance would have it the rental company didnít deliver when they were supposed to. I wandered into the wonderful Blue Hangar (Goodwill Outlet next to the Blue Theater) and there was a gorgeous leather couch and chair. $17. But they had tears in the seats with stuffing coming out. I paid the $17 and told them I might just leave it there if my experimental ďrepairĒ didnít work. Christa and I spent the next hour sitting in the Blue Hangar staining white couch stuffing with sharpie markers and when we were done we had the perfect set pieces.

— Ellie McBride


"They are like beasts in battle: Jones, who remains seated through almost the entire play, is a man paralyzed by conflicting desires but who, like a cornered bear, can still defend himself savagely. And he has to: McBride circles him like a bird of prey, goading him, taunting him, looking for the opening to get to his heart. "
          Austin Chronicle -
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