Neil LaBute burst upon the New York theater scene 20 years ago with Bash, a trio of one-act plays. It is a form he frequently returns to, and for the fourth year in a row he is represented by an evening of three one-acts under the umbrella title, LaBute New Theater Festival. Anyone familiar with the playwright’s work knows that his plays often attempt to shock—or at the very least agitate—his audiences with provocative, you-can’t-say-that-in-public pronouncements and confessions. Seemingly ordinary and recognizable individuals give voice to amoral and dark thoughts, and a successful LaBute play prompts a fair amount of uncomfortable laughter and occasional squirming in one’s seat. Fans of LaBute will be happy to know that the latest offerings contain their share of unease, and they unsettle with needling provocations around politics, race, and personal relationships.
The inherent tensions of sibling rivalry, a father and son reunion and a budding office romance drive the three 30-minute plays that make up the uneven Series B of this year’s Summer Shorts festival, presented by Throughline Artists. And, perhaps unintentionally, this showcase of new American one-acts is also a lesson in how the invention of the smartphone has changed the craft of playwriting.
The LaBute New Theater Festival is one of the rare times that one-acts get center stage (along with Author Directing Author, playwright Neil LaBute’s annual presentation of one-acts by him and Italian playwright Marco Calvani). The current trio of offerings provide two very strong entries and one, unfortunately, that isn’t. It’s the short-form champion’s own curtain-raiser that is the disappointment.