Stop the presses, Neil LaBute has a heart, possibly. In his new play, The Way We Get By, no women are humiliated, no gay men are beaten up, and the only abuse unleashed is directed at an absent housemate. Short, romantic and very sexy, this Second Stage two-hander is a departure for the author of such misanthropic plays as Fat Pig, Bash: Latter Day Plays and the films In The Company Of Men, Your Friends And Neighbors and lots of other nasty pieces of work. What The Way We Get By shares with those earlier scripts is a seductive naturalism suggesting that real people actually say these things and act these ways, which is dangerous. But The Way We Get By is a romantic comedy, so who cares?
We open on the living room of a small, nicely but not lavishly appointed Manhattan apartment. The only indication of recent activity is a pair of strappy gold sandals atilt on the floor. Enter Doug (Thomas Sadoski, The Newsroom, Wild) from the bedroom, in sweatshirt and boxers, making his way stealthily to the fridge for water. Soon Beth (Amanda Seyfried, Les Miserables, Mamma Mia! replacing Tatiana Maslany) emerges, in a Star Wars tee-shirt, mentioning that she found it weird to wake up alone in the bed.
Over the next brief while, there’s a frisky push-me pull-you between Beth, who seems pretty eager to resume activities in the other room, and Doug, who is, if not stand-offish, at best reluctant, for reasons that seem unclear, especially given all the talk about what a great night it was, Olympics-wise. There’s a hard-to-fake rapport between these two extremely attractive actors en déshabillé as they get increasingly intimate. Of course, it goes without saying they share a secret that won’t be revealed to us until the most dramatically potent moment. All I’ll say is that it put me in mind of Rex Allen’s 1962 hit, “Son Don’t Go Near The Indians.” And that it pretty much makes the run-up to the big reveal kind of silly. But as I said, who cares?
Leigh Silverman (Violet) has staged this satisfying one-act breezily, as if it were an updated version of The Thin Man and Sadoski and Seyfried were William Powell and Myrna Loy minus the martinis. If it’s not clear, I mean that as high compliment to all three parties. Neil Patel’s set does the job; Matt Frey’s lighting confused me a bit for what is supposed to be the middle of the night, but that’s a nitpick, and Emily Rebholz’ costumes are perfect. Keep an eye on that Star Wars tee-shirt. I think it’s a symbol.