Barricades lined the streets in the West Village. President Obama was in town, dining at Sarah Jessica Parker's for a fundraiser in his honor. Aretha Franklin was there leaving in a flash for the Songwriters Hall of Fame, according to my pal Roger Friedman. But this was also the opening of a night of Neil LaBute's three one-acters The Heart of the Matter, to benefit MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortel Theater just a few blocks away. While I had not thought of it before, there is a slight connection: LaBute, a playwright known to skewer human relations -- what used to be called the battle of the sexes -- could have penned episodes for the Sex & the City women, but they would have been more arch, and much meaner.
As MCC playwright in residence, he wrote the three comedies in three weeks for this benefit. You could say that the playlets, directed by Carolyn Cantor -- featuring the talented actors Cheyenne Jackson, Krysten Ritter, Tammy Blanchard, Michael Chernus, Emmanuelle Chriqui, and Eddie Kaye Thomas -- all involve the theme, "a girl confronts a guy who's been an asshole to her." In the third, a man approaches a woman in a bar. They jockey over who is coming on to whom. The woman challenges him to take their attraction to the next step. He aggressively insists upon staying faithful to his fiancé. She suggests she is set up to test him. The end is inconclusive. You do know whether or not they hook up, but not whether the woman is really spying for her friend. The audience debated all the way to the rooftop after party at Ramscale Lofts, past the police barricades.
Eddie Kaye Thomas, the actor who plays Ted, spoke about the mysteries inherent in performing in a Neil LaBute play, grateful that the ambiguity came across. The actors have to figure out what's happening, and that changes every night. But didn't you ask the playwright? Yes, but he was no help at all.
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.