Neil Labute: A Casebook

Neil Labute: A Casebook

Neil Labute: A Casebook

Neil Labute: A Casebook

Synopsis

Neil LaBute: A Casebook is the first book to examine one of the most successful and controversial contemporary American playwrights and filmmakers. While he is most famous, and in some cases infamous, for his early films In the Company of Men and Your Friends and Neighbors, Labute is equally accomplished as a playwright. His work extends from the critique of false religiosity in Bash to examinations of opportunism, irresponsible art, failed parenting, and racism in later plays like Mercy Seat, The Shape of Things, The Distance From Here, Fat Pig, Autobahn, and the very recent This Is How It Goes and Some Girls.

Like David Mamet, an acknowledged influence on him, and Conor McPhereson, with whom he shares some stylistic and thematic concerns, LaBute tends to polarize audiences. The angry voices, violent situations, and irresponsible behavior in his works, especially those focusing on male characters, have alienated some viewers. But the writer's religious affiliation and refusal to condone the actions of his characters suggest he is neither exploitive nor pornographic.

This casebook explores the primary issues of the writer's style, themes, and dramatic achievements. Contributors describe, for example, the influences (both classical and contemporary) on his work, his distinctive vision in theater and film, the role of religious belief in his work, and his satire. In addition to the critical introduction by Wood and the original essays by leading dramatic and literary scholars, the volume also includes a bibliography and a chronology of the playwright's life and works.

Excerpt

Neil LaBute is one of the most successful, and controversial, of the young American playwrights and filmmakers. While he is most famous, and in some cases infamous, for his early films In the Company of Men and Your Friends and Neighbors, LaBute is equally accomplished as a playwright. His work extends from the critique of false religiosity in bash to examinations of opportunism, irresponsible art, failed parenting, and racism in later plays such as Mercy Seat, The Shape of Things, The Distance from Here, Fat Pig, autobahn, This Is How It Goes, and some girl(s). In films he has also directed the adaptation of his play The Shape of Things, as well as the more commercial Nurse Betty and Possession. His collection of short stories, reminiscent of the ethical concerns in his plays, is titled, Seconds of Pleasure. Both LaBute’s remake of the film The Wicker Man and the American premiere of his play some girl(s) are scheduled for 2006.

In theater he has often used the monologue, either the single voice or the single speaker in a dramatic situation (bash and autobahn). As he has developed as a dramatist, he has also created plays situated in resonant places and moments in American history (the zoo in The Distance from Here and the apartments near the fallen Twin Towers in Mercy Seat). In these cases and others, specifically The Shape of Things, Fat Pig, and This Is How It Goes, he establishes a more rhetorical theater, a unique mix of the modern morality play and postmodern deconstruction. His personal films, In the Company of Men, Your Friends and Neighbors, and The Shape of Things, reiterate the style and themes which have defined his career to this point.

Like David Mamet, an acknowledged influence on him, and Conor McPherson, with whom he shares some stylistic and thematic concerns, LaBute tends to polarize audiences. The angry voices, violent situations, and irresponsible behavior in his works, especially those focusing on male characters, have alienated some viewers. For them he is “great at hate” (O’Sullivan 52) and “a chronicler of cruelty” (Corliss 66). Such critics believe, whatever the subject, LaBute is a “misanthrope” in the tradition of Peter Greenaway (Mathews 61). They turn from LaBute’s “world” because they find there “terms like ‘good’ and ‘evil’ have not only no representative but no place” (Jensen 19). For John . . .

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