August 27, 2010

A tangled web
by Greg Boyle

The 2010-2011 professional theatre season in Kansas City kicked off this week with The Living Room’s production of Neil LaBute’s This is How It Goes.

The Living Room is a fascinating venue, unlike any other in town. The spaces within it metamorphose in entirely unexpected and unrecognizable ways. It is as though the space itself is part of the experience that producers Shawnna Journagan and Rusty Sneary are trying to create. Where twice I have seen the downstairs as a theatre, it is now a gallery, featuring works by Tyson Schroeder. After the opening night performance, there was a group of people playing charades in front of the paintings.

(l to r) Tosin Morohunfola, Rusty Sneary and Molly Denninghoff in The Living Room’s production of This Is How It Goes.

Other theatres change their stage settings in a countless variety of ways, but these are mere variations in the use of a pre-designated stage. The Living Room strives to change the nature of the space itself. It is like the holodeck on the Starship Enterprise, or the Room of Requirement in the Harry Potter series. Any permutation seems to be possible.

This time the play takes place on the third floor of the building, after a tight turn on the second floor and up a narrow flight of stairs. (Don’t forget to close the door behind you.) Once you’ve arrived on the spacious 3rd level, you’re treated to an extremely comfortable environment — the Living Room’s trademark sofas and easy chairs for comfortable viewing. Canned beer, wine, soda, candy and popcorn are sold to enhance the home-like atmosphere.

Playwright LaBute is mainly known as a film writer and director, and for the misanthropic bent of his characters. In the Company of Men, a film with misogyny as its main theme, was his premier directorial outing in film. That theme is an undercurrent in this play as well. 

The production features a seemingly omniscient projection screen whose messages display the same smarty-pants personality as Man, the central character. It acts simultaneously as house manager, stage manager, program and backup narrator. We get so much information from the screen in fact, that it is a distraction. We have to remind ourselves to look at the players and not the screen. The play has minimal production values with very few props or sets, so the projections show us in detail what we should be seeing in our mind’s eye. It is a very interesting gimmick.

The story concerns an interracial love triangle in a midwestern town. The protagonist is Man, played by Rusty Sneary. His character is 30-ish, as are the other two members, who all graduated high school together.

Man is the outsider, recently returned from some shadowy past to his old hometown. Sneary’s Man is more like a man-child in his mannerisms and speech. Whatever his experiences have been, they haven’t matured him much. Molly Denninghoff portrays Belinda, his high school crush, who married the star jock, Cody, played by Tosin Morohunfola. Both of the men have serious issues about personal relationships, as deception plays a major role in their lives. Morohunfola’s character has at least matured into adulthood, but can only think in terms of dominance and conquest, and cannot tolerate human touch. In this effort, we see the best performance of the evening. Morohunfola has a low-key intensity that makes you sense his readiness for combat even when he is speaking softly or smiling.

All of these characters want to leave the past behind and set off in a new direction. Denninghoff ably portrays the erstwhile cheerleader, now well-off housewife, with a clear yearning that matches Sneary’s Man. She is the only character who seems capable of telling the truth.

Truth is a topic brought up over and over in the play. People’s expectations, especially those of the audience, allow the Man, as narrator, to reset scenes and replay them to us viewers. We discover that certain outcomes may have come to pass in a variety of ways. The point being that we typically choose to interpret things based on preconceived notions. Race relations, wealth, happiness and gamesmanship are all examined in this manner. The deliberate effect is to leave the audience somewhat unsettled, because nothing has been spelled out easily for us.

Director Bryan Moses allows his cast to move in rhythms that feel real in which time is not accelerated for stage consumption. While it makes the conversations feel genuine, it makes the show longer than it needs to be.

At intermission there was a brief, lovely set of Amy Mann music sung by Katie Gilchrist, with guitar by Sean Hogge.

This Is How It Goes is playing through Saturday, Sept. 4 at The Living Room Theatre, located at 1818 McGee in the Crossroads District. Call 816-221-4260 for tickets or purchase them online at

Greg Boyle may be contacted at

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