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In a Forest, Dark and Deep at Profiles Theatre | Theater review

Neil LaBute’s schematic sibling story quickly turns tiresome.

Photograph: Wayne Karl
Natasha Lowe and Darrell W. Cox in In a Forest, Dark and Deep at Profiles Theatre

“You pushed a button,” Bobby (Darrell W. Cox) tells his sister, Betty (Natasha Lowe), by way of explaining his hostile over-reaction to a mild provocation. Playwright Neil LaBute spends most of this 2011 two-hander, receiving its U.S. premiere at Profiles, pushing buttons of his own. Despite strong enough performances from Lowe and Cox and competent direction by Joe Jahraus, it’s tough to shake the sense that LaBute’s play is cynically manipulative.

Betty, a college educator with a promiscuous past, has asked younger brother Bobby to come out one dark and stormy night to help her clear out the cabin she and her husband own as a rental property. The tenant, Betty says, has flown the coop, and she wants to get the place cleaned up for showing. Bobby, who’s holding onto a lifetime’s worth of sibling resentment, immediately senses that Betty’s story is full of holes—as do we. Betty’s stuttering disclosures of the extent of her lies alternate with tedious screaming matches for the next 90 minutes.

The dichotomies LaBute sets up between the pair—Bobby as the coarse, vulgar but apparently moral blue-collar guy, versus Betty’s educated amorality—telegraph which side the playwright’s on. He gives Betty a couple of long speeches about love and loss, buoyed here by Lowe’s convincing delivery, that would seem like plays to reverse his misogynist reputation—if they weren’t undercut by both Bobby and LaBute shaming her alleged sluttiness and ultimately casting her as a ruiner of men’s lives.

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