In Neil LaBute’s play “Some Girl(s),” at Pinch ‘n’ Ouch Theatre through October 21, the main character, Guy (Grant McGowen), is on the verge of getting married, so he’s taking a quick trip around the country to meet up with old girlfriends, in a series of anonymously similar hotel rooms, ostensibly to apologize for past wrongs (he hasn’t been a very nice Guy, as we learn) and to satisfy a lingering sense of curiosity about how his actions have affected those around him.
Each of the girls is reunited with Guy and has her chance to confront him, to get an explanation for his seemingly inexcusable distance or cruelty, to try to seduce him again, even to exact some revenge. It’s a blocky structure for a play — four girls, four scenes — but it ends up drawing us in. The women are skillfully depicted by four smartly cast actresses. As we move through the four situations, we wonder who’s next, how she’s different from the one before, what’s motivating Guy and what’s drawing the women back, so that the play trots along at a quick and satisfying pace.
Lala Cochran is the standout as spiky, vengeful, older college professor Lindsay. There’s an imperiousness and impatience to the way she bites into Guy. She interrogates him as if he’s an awkward freshman trying to turn in a late term paper, and that’s a joy to see. Her Lindsay is a smart, sensitive, tenderhearted soul that the world has turned into a barking dominatrix through its sheer repetitive stupidity.
More problematic for the production is the fact that McGowen is far too likeable a stage presence to convey the nightmarish and heartless qualities Guy is supposed to have. Guy should be attractive the way a boa constrictor is attractive: you feel yourself sickeningly drawn to touch its skin, against all your better judgment. But McGowen’s Guy is more clumsy than cruel, more puppy dog than serpent. The actor limns him as a character trying to mop up a mess, someone who never realizes, no matter how closely he examines a situation, that he’s the one with dirt on his shoes making things worse wherever he steps.
With such hapless good intentions at its center, “Some Girl(s)” never really develops the icily, scarily pulsating heart it’s meant to have. When one of the girls accuses Guy of being an “emotional terrorist,” it should ring true. But a terrorist has intention to harm, and this Guy doesn’t and seems he never could.
Even when Guy turns violent, even when his thoroughly execrable and inexcusable surveillance of conversations (and its even slimier motivation) is exposed, McGowen seems genuine and sympathetic in his utterly self-immolating excuses. I got the feeling I was supposed to hate Guy, but I felt more “Well, all righty then, if that’s why you did it….” The final turn toward total scumbaggery (along with total self-acceptance) comes from left field when it’s clearly supposed to feel that it’s the truth that’s been waiting for us all along.
There’s a lack of maturity, strength, autonomy and sophistication in LaBute’s women that’s meant to read as a provocative, uncomfortable and politically incorrect truth, but here it’s just frustrating. The four scenes all end up in the same unsatisfying place: a smart, interesting girl exposes her need for a clueless jerk and then gets angry about what a clueless jerk he is. That’s not a sympathetic situation; it’s not provocative; it’s not even pitiable.
I longed for one of the women to take a look at her past with Guy, shrug her shoulders and say “Meh, that’s life.” That wouldn’t make much of a play, I suppose, but neither does “Some Girl(s).” It’s an odd production, exposing the script’s faults by evoking sympathy for LaBute’s unsympathetic man and frustration with his ostensibly more sympathetic women. But I guess that’s just the way it is with some play(s).