The message of Neil Labute’s Some Girl(s) is pretty well summed up by one of the characters, Bobbi, towards the end of Act II: “Guys always mean well right before they fuck somebody over.” Indeed, the protagonist of Labute’s serio-comedy, the un-subtly named Guy (Edgar Zayas), has seemingly done his best to leave the women in his life infatuated, then wounded, and ultimately abandoned. But now that Guy’s career as a writer is taking off and he’s soon to be married, he craves closure from all his past failed relationships. And so off he goes, jetting to different hotel rooms in different cities to meet his exes and, ostensibly, to make amends to them.
The structure of Some Girl(s) is elegant in its simplicity and repetition (five scenes, five girls, five different patterns on the hotel bed sheets). The sparseness of the plot means that the real action here is between the characters themselves. Each scene is essentially a sparring match between Guy and his ex de jeur, and the drama comes from watching the intricacies of the emotional chess match. Unfortunately, Some Girl(s) is ultimately unable to deliver the emotional authenticity written into the script, and although it shines during some moments, it mostly falls flat.
The main problem with Unquiet’s production is that every scene is a two-person scene, a one-on-one between Guy and an ex-girlfriend; while some of the female actors are really quite brilliant, at my performance, Zayas was unable to deliver a compelling performance. The premise of the play, fantastical as it may be, is that all of these women were so entranced with their former beau that they’ve put aside long-held resentments in order to visit him and hear him out. But there was nothing remotely engaging about Guy. Yes, he is a self-centered, insecure cad. But he is also supposed to be funny, charming, and just enough of a hurt-little-boy that these women fell for him like lambs at a slaughter. But Zayas offers nothing in the way of charisma or even basic emotion. When one ex tells him her sister was struck with a terrible disease, there is only the faintest attempt at shock and sadness. When another ex threatens to expose his Pre-Marriage Amends World Tour to his fiancée, there was mild annoyance where there should have been horror and rage. There was little variation in Guy’s vocal, physical or emotional quality. And it is this variation that is the critical spice required in Some Girl(s), because otherwise it’s just two actors sitting around a hotel room.
As for the female characters and cast members themselves, Director Katy Chmura did do a nice job of creating stark contrasts between them. There is Sam (Amber Elston), a high school girlfriend who still feels jilted over Guy’s failure to take her to the prom. Next is Tyler, a midriff showing wild child who was played wonderfully by Katherine Biscula. Biscula exuded a confidence and casual sexuality, and Labute’s choppy dialogue felt natural and authentic when she spoke. This was also true, although to a lesser extent, for Lindsay (Rhiannon LaCross), Guy’s former professor, who despite her domineering high heels and self righteous British accent, is clearly still enthralled with and deeply wounded by Guy.
It is the fourth girl, Reggie (Tara Malaka), who can take credit for providing the most emotionally arresting scene in Some Girl(s). She is the younger sister of Guy’s old school chum, and at first it isn’t clear why he chooses to visit her. It slowly unfolds that they too had a relationship, in a manner of sorts, and out of all the exes, it is perhaps she who was most irrevocably shaped by Guy’s flippant romantic advances. Malaka played a little girl who tries her hardest to make the world believe she is a jaded, grown up woman. What is so touching, and so tragic, really, is how little she meant to Guy, but how much he meant to her. This is the scene that best captures the question that Some Girl(s) asks throughout: how do past relationships shape who we are?
The final girl, Bobbi (Becca Harney) seems to be the only one who Guy still cares for in any meaningful way. At first, one might be tempted to think that Bobbi is the weakest of the five exes, the one most likely to give in to Guy’s self serving demands and offer him the validation he is so desperately seeking. And so it is a pleasure when Harney turns the tables on us, and promptly calls Guy out on his bullshit. She refuses to be manipulated into telling Guy what he so wants to hear: that he isn’t really a bad person, just a typical male who made some mistakes. When she discovers that there is an even deeper level of sleaze to Guy’s visitations, any modicum of sympathy one might have for him melts away.
Katy Chmura assembles a minimal set that nicely depicts the typical blandness of a franchised hotel room. She costumes her run crew as hotel staff, who between each scene change the bed sheets to a different, faux-stylish pattern. Justin Janke creates an adequate but un-inspiring lighting design, and the costumes well complement each character’s sense of style (I particularly enjoyed LaCross’ alligator high heels).
Labute writes characters who are neurotic, insecure, eternally hesitant and desperate to look good in front of their peers – in other words, most 21st Century Americans. When done well, it is among the most natural-sounding dialogue on the stage today, and can result in fast-paced and very funny scenes that reveal glimpses of what it’s really like to be in a relationship in the modern world. Done poorly, as Hamlet said, it’s just “words, words, words…” Unquiet’s production of Some Girl(s) does strike moments of true gold, and when the actors allow themselves to be vulnerable and authentic, it is a true joy to watch. Only when those moments remain constant throughout the five scenes can the show truly live up to Neil Labute’s intentions.
Running Time: One hour and 40 minutes, with one intermission.