Playwright: Neil LaBute. At: Profiles Theatre, 4147 N. Broadway. Phone: 773-5449-1815; $30-$35. Runs through: Nov. 15
One of the urban legends to arise from the holocaust of the attack on the World Trade Towers in 2001 was that of citizens alleged to be occupying the target buildings, and afterward assumed dead, but who werefor various reasonsabsent during the crucial time frame, and who saw in the disaster an opportunity to abandon their previous lives and forge new careers under assumed identities. Hey, isn't the dream of every American male since Huckleberry Finn to "light out for the territories" far from the restrictions of "sivilized" society? ( It's not just a "guy" thing, by the waymigrant "mail-order brides" likewise answered the call to self-reinvention on the frontiers. )
We meet mid-level corporate drone Ben Harcourt during the wee hours of the night where, the morning previous, he dropped in on his mistress for some pre-workday nookie only to witness his office blown to bits in his absence. Faced with the romantic prospect of fleeing his responsibilities, which include a wife and children, he makes the mistake of asking his paramour to join him in his flight. It's a mistake because this is a Neil LaBute play, and so Abby Prescott is also his bossa status that not only endows her with more to lose by taking to the hills, but spurs her to vent her ambivalence on her boy-toy like a premenopausal Aunt Polly, excoriating him for his selfish response to tragedy while simultaneously mocking his attempts at compassion.
A playwright's allegiance is only to his play's universe, but LaBute's universe is so blatantly artificial that any empathy generated for his characters risks being eclipsed by indignation at his unabashed manipulation. Who wouldn't want to run away from a home filled with ball-busting estrogen-huffing clutchers? And who wouldn't be outraged at a slackerly squeeze's casual presumption of feminine loyalty? After stacking the deck so shamelessly, LaBute tries to lure us back into the game with an eleventh-hour revelation reducing the disaster outside to a mere catalyst in the domestic quarrel that is its real focus, but by then it's too late.
Under Joe Jahraus' direction, Darrell W. Cox and Cheryl Graeff struggle to inject a hint of suspense into LaBute's gender-games, but when an author refuses to deal fairly with his audience, the stakes never escalate to the point where we care about the outcome. Unlike Ben and Abby, we know enough to get out when the going's good.