In his screenplays and plays, Neil LaBute frequently writes about evil, but it's not evil that we immediately recognize as such. Rather it's evil that's caparisoned in the banality of cheerful normalcy. Save for the ultimate result, moral ambiguity isn't a matter of black and white. LaBute's characters dress nicely, are capable of love, and feel guilt when they do something wrong. And they might as well feel guilt, because the things they do are as wicked as the day is long.
In Iphigenia in Orem, a seemingly genial traveling salesman (director Sean Thomas) unspools a grim tale about the death of his infant daughter to a woman he's hired to go back with him to his hotel. During the monologue, it turns out that the businessman's understandable grief stems from a darker and more horrifying source than the "mere" death of a child. Thomas crafts a vivid and downright terrifying figure, who demonstrates a cunning mix of charm and loathsomeness. You start out wanting to like him, then you realize you must judge him or be complicit in his diabolical behavior.
In Medea Redux, Carly Craig plays a junior high school student who is seduced and dumped by her teacher after giving birth to his unacknowledged child. In LaBute's subtle description of the girl's rage and her ultimate monstrous deed—the piece's title should give you a hint about what she does—we find ourselves having to choose for ourselves precisely the moment when the character turns "evil." Craig offers a wonderful, multidimensional turn as a girl who's manipulated and spurned, taking the only justice that she can.
Craig and Thomas appear together in the evening's final outing, A Gaggle of Saints, about a young Mormon couple who come to New York for a party weekend. While the girl dozes obliviously in the hotel room, her boyfriend and his pals go out for a surprising evening of mayhem and violence. Although the two actors appear onstage together and interact with each other, the play is functionally a pair of intertwined monologues that only obliquely refer to each other. Once again Thomas chills as an appealing, likeable fellow who turns out to be as twisted as any monster in human form. And Craig is even subtler, playing a gentle, innocent woman who might just be turning a blind eye to things she doesn't want to see.
In his beautifully intimate production of these moral dramas, Thomas engrossingly balances the genial, pleasant qualities of LaBute's characters with the appalling things they do. Additionally, Thomas has discovered the important truth that monologues should be staged as conversations with an unseen person. As a result, the show never succumbs to the static mood often undermining most long soliloquies. It's a powerful production, the searing evocative emotion of which is startlingly out of proportion to the deceptively cozy mood.
"Bash," presented by and at the Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., 2nd Floor, Hollywood. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m. Feb. 11-Mar. 6. $10. (310) 276-8552.