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Sent on Mormon-News: 16May01

By Kent Larsen

Labute in London: Controversial Mormon Playwright & Director Has New Play

LONDON, ENGLAND -- Mormonism's most controversial playwright and director, Neil LaBute, is in London directing his new play, "The Shape of Things," a look at the darker side of human nature, like the previous films and plays he has written. In Sunday's London Observer Sean O'Hagan interviewed LaBute and wrote about what makes him so controversial and so contradictory.

LaBute's latest play, written for the Almeida Theatre where his three-part play about Mormons, Bash, was produced last year, looks at how far a person will go to humiliate another. Set in the contemporary art world, it features an art student whose ambition knows no bounds. LaBute says that the notion sometimes hits close to home, "People talk about their relationships as if they are pursuing a career trajectory - 'Is this a good move? Can I do better?' I wanted to get that all in, and the notion that an artist could exploit not just themselves, but someone else, someone they are close to, in the pursuit of art. I mean, I do it myself to a degree. In the midst of an argument I'm often thinking, 'that's a great line, I could use that.' It's terrible really, but I walk through life thinking, 'Is this a potential scene or character?'. "

LaBute's works show this view of human nature, a pessimistic view that can make an audience recoil in horror, or shock them into denial. And it is exactly this message that conflicts so much with LaBute the person. O'Hagan describes him as a bespectacled enthusiastic academic (he once taught drama in Indiana) with "a gentle good humor and impeccable courteousness." But while his demeanor may fit with the stereotype of a Mormon, the conflict with his writings are difficult for some to reconcile, "People assume that because I'm a practicing Mormon there's this Old Testament drive underpinning everything I write. But I don't think Mormonism colors my view of humanity any more than, say, being a man, or being an American. I've always had this rich interest in the basic religious tenets of sin, confession, damnation, whatever."

Raised in Liberty Lake, Washington, LaBute loved bible classes but had a contentious relationship with his truck-drive father, who was often absent because of work and who discouraged his writing. He attended BYU and there he thrived on BYU's restrictive environment, soon joining the LDS Church, "I was inundated with all the trappings of the religion and I found it quite comforting. Sometimes I wonder how much my conversion had to do with me being away from home for the first time and was maybe tied to the security I needed at that time. I grapple with that occasionally, but the big stuff I have no real trouble with. There's nothing I like more than the idea of faith. People can study and discuss the nature of it all they like but it just comes down to making that leap. Also, I figure what's the worst case scenario if I'm wrong - that I've lived a relatively good life."

But BYU didn't look very favorably on his early plays and school authorities even locked up the theatre to prevent a performance of a play he wrote called "Lepers," which he later adapted into his film, "Friends and Neighbors." LaBute says that he was influenced by the early work of his hero, acclaimed playwright and director David Mamet, especially his groundbreaking, and still controversial, play "Sexual Perversity" and Mike Nichol's film "Carnal Knowledge." "Those were chilling and prescient works when they debuted and they still have a certain timelessness. I always felt I had to go beyond that kind of drama, find something new and unsaid and essentially truthful about our time and the way we behave beneath the veneer of respectability that all of us, to one degree or another, hide behind."

And he did just that, making a splash with his low-budget film "In the Company of Men" which won acclaim and pans, including reactions from the Los Angeles Times, which called it "the psychological equivalent of a snuff movie" and from Newsday, which wrote, "you walk away from it feeling as if you've witnessed a rape that you've done nothing to stop."

He went on to write "Friends and Neighbors" and "Bash," the most informed by Mormonism of his works. He has also directed, gaining acclaim for last fall's popular film "Nurse Betty." But LaBute says that the script went against his instincts, "I liked working within the constraints of that genre and the studio system. But, that said, my instinct was to have her plane explode at the end. I suppose the fact that she ended up alone and disillusioned with the American dream was enough. I just couldn't have done the pat Hollywood happy ending. It's not in my nature to go along with that big lie that they tell us over and over and that has no correlation in reality."

With the upcoming release of the film based on A.S. Byatt's novel, Possession that he directed, LaBute will soon be back in the public eye in the US. In the meantime, he will direct "The Shape of Things," and continue to let the public puzzle over his contradictions. O'Hagan says that where great writers are so often despicable human beings, "Neil LaBute is the opposite: a nice human being who specializes in depicting the often despicable nature of everyday lives. His words are to be savored, even as you choke in disbelief on them."


Donny Osmond he ain't
London UK The Observer 13May01 A2
By Sean O'Hagan
Mormon Neil LaBute may be devoted to God, but the casual brutality of his films suggest a low opinion of humanity. Sean O'Hagan finds out what the director of Nurse Betty plans next.

See also:

LDS Filmmaker LaBute Shooting New Film

'Nurse Betty' Leads To LaBute Profile in LA Weekly

LDS Playwright Neil LaBute's 'Bash' on Showtime Tonight

LaBute's Bash Opens In Washington DC

LaBute's 'Bash' Praised and Criticized in London

'Bash's' Brutality a Shade Too Bitter

Winslet may star in controversial LDS playwright's 'Bash'

A Filmmaker's Faith in God, if Not in Men

People walk-out of new LaBute premeire


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