Review: Some Girl(s) (Park Theatre)
The play is about a Brooklyn writer visiting his exes before settling down and getting married
Call it the American Express. In Neil Labute's 2005 play, a Brooklyn-based writer travels the length and breadth of the US to drop in on his former squeezes before getting hitched. There's his high school sweetheart, still settled in Seattle; sexy in Chicago; the Boston cougar and, finally, the love of his life in LA. A complication of exes, indeed.
For any bloke with a string of significant others, it's a chastening watch. In the figure of Guy, originally played by David Schwimmer and given a Gellerish goofiness by Charles Dorfman here, Labute pins down a whole heap of male foibles - none of them particularly attractive.
It comes down to why - why oh why - anyone would embark on such a grand tour of their past, and Labute leaves Guy's motives ambiguous enough for them to multiply. At one level, it's sheer sentimentality; a desire to revisit, not just his former relationships, but his former selves. At another, it's simply a case of confirming - ensuring, before settling, that he's made the right choice.
The arrogance of that, though - and it's so typically male; this conviction that, while each ex is just another to him, Guy must have been their One, as if they've spent the intervening years pining over his photograph, agonising over the hurt he caused. In kidding himself that he's out to make amends - a ritual to restore moral purity - Guy's actually there to prove himself, seeking reassurance that, despite marriage, he's still got it - the player king lives. Beneath the nice guy veneer, there's a manipulative, preening shitbag swinging his dick.
It's a carefully written role. Guy's habit of repeating himself is telling, as is his wordsmith's way of sprinkling empty promises willy-nilly. His declarations of love, hollow commitments all, wooed these women with visions of a future - only for Guy to run away in search of greener grass. Even now, he's checking all the lawns he torched in case any came good. But people get hurt. Let them down and they fall hard.
For all the acuity with which Labute dissects the male psyche, however, Some Girl(s) is inescapably schematic. Guy might not have a type, but the play has plenty. Its female roles are short shrift: Roxanne Pallett gets the sassy partygirl; Carolyn Backhouse, the stern older woman taking improbable revenge; and Elly Condron, the mum of two with small horizons and big regrets. Gary Condes' second-rate production, with a PJ McEvoy design that's cheap even by the standards of cheap hotel rooms, doesn't do nearly enough to push against superficial cliché.
Dorfman, meanwhile, gets to be many different people in one. For him, each relationship was a rite of passage, be it sexual adventure or a pretence of adulthood, yet Guy's romantic history is over-familiar, even hackneyed.
Conveniently, for a playwright unpicking America itself, each woman neatly reflects their native city, but Labute's attempt to argue that the small acts of romantic violence are "emotional terrorism" or "little atrocities" looks jaded a decade on, so far from 9/11. So does his structure - a kind of La Ronde in reverse that can, ultimately, only build to the big one: the one that got away, the big mistake - Carley Stenson's breezy-but-steely Bobbi. Sometimes, as Some Girl(s) makes clear, it's best to leave the past well alone. Let exes stay exes and bygones be bygones.
Some Girl(s) runs at the Park Theatre until 6 August.