Some Word(s), Some Action(s)

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This is James Taylor with Theatre Talk.

In the spirit of this election season, I'd like to draw your attention to a particular stump speech. Like many you've heard, this one has a mix of pragmatism, hope and of course, self-promotion. You won't hear it set to music on YouTube, in fact the only place you can find this speech is in the last issue of L.A. Stage Magazine.

This speech, which could be titled "The Audacity of Hoping for Better LA Theater," was written by playwright and filmmaker Neil LaBute.

Much of what LaBute calls for in his "Yes We Can" speech is boilerplate LA Theater-boosterism: like calling on companies to put on more original work and for audiences to give smaller theaters a chance. These are noble gestures, but only slightly more improbable than his wish that Morgan Freeman or Rene Zellweger will starting working with the Open Fist Theatre Company or Actors' Gang—engagements about as likely as free universal health care for all Americans.

For all the wishful thinking in LaBute's sermon though -- he does get one thing right. His final talking point is titled "Respect" and he says simply: "We must earn the respect we crave. We cannot use the theater as a kind of stepping stone to another career…or as a means to an end." This of course, is not a new observation, but for LaBute -- who holds a position of influence in the cultural world -- to say it so boldly is significant. More so, because during the past two years, he's backed up this rhetoric with action.

LaBute has been involved with a number of L.A. revivals of his work and this month he's even directing the West Coast Premiere of his 2005 play, Some Girl(s) at the Geffen Playhouse.

Now, Some Girl(s) is no revelation, it's a shaggy shocker much in the same vein as his other work: a slimy guy tells half truths to the women he used to date, which leads up to a giant kick in the gut -- for both the women and the audience.

[Audio Clip from Some Girl(s)]

That's Mark Feuerstein as the guy who drops in on his ex's. Yes, this plot line may remind you of High Fidelity or even Scott Baio Is 45...and Single, but what makes Some Girl(s) (originally seen in London with David Schwimmer in the lead role) better than most of his work, is that the main character is a writer -- so even if Some Girl(s) is hokum, at least its hokum set in a milieu LaBute knows intimately.

What makes this production notable is LaBute's casting and presence as director. Even in his worst films, LaBute has a sharp eye for actors and here, Feuerstein, is pitch perfect as the neurotic scribe. Also, Justina Machado's sultry turn as one of the ex's provides enough subtext and chemistry to give one of the four reunions a genuine voyeuristic sizzle.

Even in the lesser scenes though, watching this production feels definitive. It doesn't seem like a rehash of something that was better somewhere else. That's because LaBute brought his experience and reputation to the theater -- an L.A. theater -- rolled up his sleeves and put on a show. Some Girl(s) -- which runs at the Geffen's Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater through March 16 -- may not single-handedly make L.A. Theater Great(er), but in this election year, at least LaBute is practicing what he preaches.

This is James Taylor with Theatre Talk for KCRW.

Photo: Michael Lamont