This Is How It Goes

  • Review by:
    Polly Wittenberg

    Review by Polly Wittenberg

    Written by: Neil LaBute
    Directed by: George C. Wolfe
    Cast: Ben Stiller (Man), Amanda Peet (Belinda), Jeffrey Wright (Cody)
    Synopsis: The story of an interracial love triangle that becomes shockingly skewed.

    Polly Wittenberg's Review

    Neil LaBute, whose plays are much produced both here and in London, seems to have been reading his reviews. When his play about three college friends and an interloper, 'The Shape of Things', opened several years ago, critics on both sides of the Atlantic found it to be a �seriously contrived� work in which almost nothing �feels authentic� and, at more than two hours long, an occasion where the playwright needed to �cut more quickly to the chase.� Nevertheless, they gave him credit for trying to elucidate the heart of darkness that lurks in his firmly-contemporary characters.

    LaBute is at it again. In his latest, 'This is How it Goes', now playing in the Anspacher at the Public Theater, we not only have a title which is the same in substance as the earlier work mentioned above, we have a reworking of the same themes. This time it�s a 90-minute intermissionless three-hander about high school acquaintances which starts with a (presumably) chance meeting in a Sears parking lot. You can�t get much more authentic than that.

    As in 'The Shape of Things', the production has a hip young cast. The characters include our narrator, the former class nerd (played by Ben Stiller), a prom-queen-type (Amanda Peet), and her husband, the only-black-in-the-class ex-jock (Jeffrey Wright). Through a series of encounters in a strip mall, the couple�s living room, at a backyard barbecue and in a lawyer�s office, the real relationships among the members of this group of typical suburbanites are exposed in all their careerism, racism, sexism, and self-delusion. It�s not a pretty picture and, when you think about it, the purported motives don�t make any sense, but you only have to wait until about half way through before the major line of deception in the plot is revealed.

    Directed by George C. Wolfe on a neat set with classy use of projections by Riccardo Hernandez, this play has the depth of a wafer. Contrivance and over-manipulation of stereotypical characters is still LaBute�s stock in trade, along with name-dropping of classical references (here it�s Desdemona and The Mayor of Casterbridge). Though the play is not unpleasant to watch, it seems to me that audiences should demand somewhat more from our �significant talents.�

    'This is How it Goes' runs through the middle of April at the Public. A British production opens at the Donmar in London in late May.

    Polly Wittenberg

    What the critics had to say.....

    BEN BRENTLEY of the NEW YORK TIMES says �The first third of the play's 90 minutes is pretty involving. But then the realization sinks in that for all the distracting fancy footwork, Mr. LaBute is doing a waltz he has danced better before.�
    HOWARD KISSEL of NEW YORK DAILY NEWS says �Ultimately, the play is irritating not because it confronts us with our own insecurities about racial issues but because it jerks us around. For all the actors' intensity and charm, the play remains a tease.�
    FRANK SCHECK of NEW YORK POST says " It's too bad that the playwright seems less interested in exploring his provocative theme than in manipulating the audience."
    ELYSA GARDNER of USA TODAY says "This Is How It Goes is ultimately less judgmental than wistful � wistful in LaBute's fashion, which is also to say prickly, funny and sure to ruffle a few feathers."
    LINDA WINER of NEWSDAY says "The only unambiguous thing about this astonishing play is its quality.�
    JACQUES LE SOURD of JOURNAL NEWS says "This play is only for those whose love of LaBute is unconditional."
    MICHAEL SOMMERS of STAR-LEDGER says "The show is over in a quick 90 minutes before viewers can realize how far they've been taken on what's essentially a nearly empty tank of gas."
    PETER SANTILLI of Associated Press says "Paints a rather bleak picture of love and marriage and race relations, using biting dialogue that is performed trippingly by a talented cast."
    ALEXIS GREENE Of the HOLLYWOOD REPORTER says "This Is How It Goes" reveals the weakness that dogs most of LaBute's plays. Seizing on an idea (racism, fat women), he manipulates characters to reveal people's supposed amorality. But he never really explores character at all."

    External links to full reviews from newspapers:
    New York Times
    New York Daily News
    New York Post
    USA Today
    Journal News
    Associated Press
    Hollywood Reporter