As audience members walked into the Yuba College theatre, their eyes were immediately drawn to an image of a topless schoolgirl dressed in red-framed sunglasses and a girl scout’s hat. But when going to see a play written by Neil LaBute, one comes to expect the unexpected.
Neil Labute, playwright and director, focuses on raw, real life situations. His plays such as “Filthy Talk for Troubled Times” and movies such as “In the Company of Men” address issues that are extremely controversial.
“Autobahn,” the latest play by LaBute, is no exception. LaBute attacks issues that usually stay behind closed doors, and this time the doors are those of an automobile.
The first scene of “Autobahn,” titled “Road Trip,” features Sarah Skinner and Noah Gillett. Gillett plays an older man who is driving to a secluded cabin in the woods. Along for the ride is an immature high school freshmen played by Skinner. Though a little babyish at times, Skinner does a good job at portraying a 14 year old schoolgirl, and Gillett’s interpretation of an older pedophile with a short temper was spot on. Everything from the tone in his voice to the way his hands gripped his imaginary steering wheel sent chills up my spine.
The next scene titled “All Apologies” was unquestionably the highlight of the play. This scene features Jim Prager and Amber Royer as a dysfunctional married couple. The two are in a car pulled over on the side of the road in their neighborhood. Royer’s character wants an apology from her husband and insists on keeping the car in park until she hears the two magic words. Prager’s character rambles on about words, analyzing their origin and meaning, while his wife sits voiceless. Finally, the husband apologizes to his wife– for just about everything.
Scene three of “Autobahn” is titled “Merge,” and in this scene a husband, played by Robert Cross, has just picked up his wife, played by Janet Frye-Stottmann, from the airport. It comes out that Frye-Stottmann’s character had been drinking and invited a couple, a few, or perhaps a whole gang of men to her room to experience a night that a 1970’s swinger would be in awe of.
Cross did a marvelous job playing a husband who wants to know every detail of an affair that horrifies him. From anger to attraction, from disgust to disbelief, Cross’s character is an emotional wreck. The scene ends with the wife resting her head on her husband, who is still unclear about how many men his wife had been with.
Scene four begins the second half of the play and is titled “Bench Seat.” In this scene Sarah Skinner and Noah Gillett play lovers sitting in a car at a make out / break-up point. Skinner’s character is uncertain why she is there. She doesn’t know if her boyfriend brought her up there to break-up or make out with her. She lets him know of her uncertainty, promising to ruin his life if he does try to split.
The next scene touched home with many college guys. In a scene titled “Long Division,” Robert Cross and Noah Gillett play characters on a mission to retrieve the one thing all college guys need to survive: a video gaming system. Cross’s character drives in this scene while Gillett’s character tries to gather enough nerve to go to his ex-girlfriend’s house to retrieve his gaming system. “Long Division” is a great buddy movie in the making.
The last scene of they play is titled “Autobahn” and is by far the most complex. Janet Frye-Stottmann played a wife to Robert Cross’ character. As they drive Janet Frye-Stottmann discusses the couple’s problems, including their foster child who is a troublemaker. The foster child has said he was molested by the husband in the scene. The husband says nothing, which lets the audience judge him based on his lack of words. Out of all the short-cycle scenes in this play, “Autobahn” was the most somber. It made the audience think about how we as a society judge others based on what they say, or in this case, don’t say while never knowing what is really going on. It was a fantastic ending to a well-performed play.
The play’s director, David Wheeler, chose simplicity in the way of a set. This choice forced the audience to focus on the actors and the dialogue. Once again Wheeler has directed a wonderful play with a talented cast. Do not pass up a chance to see his next production at Yuba College.