Jailbait

  Given Profiles’ predilection for Neil LaBute’s repeatedly crummy treatment of women, I was extra apprehensive about Jailbait’s...

Photograph: Wayne Karl
DAYS OF WINE AND POSES Gray, left, and Levin ingest liquid courage.

 

Given Profiles’ predilection for Neil LaBute’s repeatedly crummy treatment of women, I was extra apprehensive about Jailbait’s premise: Two 15-year-old girls, pretending to be 21, fake their way into a Boston nightclub where they meet two thirtysomething guys on the prowl for younger women. With the play’s seemingly provocative title, the potential squick factor is through the roof.

Given Profiles’ predilection for Neil LaBute’s repeatedly crummy treatment of women, I was extra apprehensive about Jailbait’s premise: Two 15-year-old girls, pretending to be 21, fake their way into a Boston nightclub where they meet two thirtysomething guys on the prowl for younger women. With the play’s seemingly provocative title, the potential squick factor is through the roof.

But O’Connor’s not out for provocation. While her play, which debuted last year in a production by New York’s Cherry Lane Theatre, contains its share of uncomfortable moments, the playwright is remarkably humane in her assessment of Emmy (Levin, of Lookingglass’s Trust), the young girl eager for grown-up “fun,” and Claire (Gray, of the Gift’s Summer People), Emmy’s smart, shy friend who allows herself to be bullied into going along. Robert (Burgher), the guy Claire hits it off with, gets a fair shake, too; coming out of a failed long-term relationship and himself bullied by his posturing pal Mark (Kenyon), he shows signs of doubt about Claire’s age but is hungry enough for connection to fool himself for a night. (Mark, on the other hand, is closer to standard-issue misogynist.)

For all its sensitivity, O’Connor’s script treads a schematic path; it’s not hard to connect the dots in advance. But she has a deft touch with dialogue—“It gets less scary the more you drink,” Emmy tells Claire—and Jahraus’s smartly paced, well-acted production walks a tonal tightrope, allowing us to laugh alongside the rising sense of impending doom.

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