When the time comes for a new — or established — work by Neil LaBute to arrive on the West Coast, chances are the work will be at the Geffen Playhouse, where LaBute has become one of the theatre's most frequently produced playwrights. His Tony Award-nominated Reasons to Be Pretty will have its Los Angeles premiere opening Aug. 6 featuring Nick Gehlfuss, Shawn Hatosy, Amber Tamblyn and Alicia Witt, with Geffen artistic director Randall Arney at the helm.
The cast members are all first-timers to the Geffen stage, and Arney will be directing his first LaBute show, but the production still has a feeling of old home week. The Geffen-LaBute pipeline dates back to the 2007 West Coast premiere of Fat Pig directed by Jo Bonney. A LaBute play or adaptation has been part of the Westwood theatre's lineup nearly every year since: Some Girl(s) (2008), Wrecks (2010), The Break of Noon (2011) and LaBute's adaptation of Strindberg's Miss Julie (2013).
Plays and personalities both have to be a fit, says LaBute, whose friendship with Arney and with the company's late producing artistic director Gil Cates dates back even further.
"It's not just the play or whether it does well. I think it's a connection between people," says LaBute, speaking from New York where his latest play The Money Shot will have its world premiere in September. "I think Gil, Randy and I have all enjoyed each other's company and have a similar sense of what we loved about theatre. For a job that's so nomadic, such a gypsy job, it's nice to have places where you see some familiar faces."
Particularly, LaBute adds, faces belonging to people who "get" your work and who can provide spaces like the 149-seat Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater, that can provide the kind of audience-performer intimacy that the work might demand. (For the record, Reasons will bow not in the Audrey, but on the 522-seat Gil Cates Theater.)
"Part of it is the world that Randy and casting director Phyllis Schuringa come from. They come out of Steppenwolf and there's a kindness, a sort of relaxed Midwestern sensibility about them that I really appreciate," the playwright continues. "Theatre can get a little high-strung; it can get a little precious sometimes. When we see each other, we smile. It's an easygoing kind of thing. We like our work and we're very serious about it, but I don't think we take it too seriously. We don't let the drama overtake the drama that's on stage, and that's very important to me. For someone who tends to spend days creating drama on the page, I run from drama in life."
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