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Lab’s ‘The Way We Get By’ all about the journey


It’s one thing to know what you want out of life or a relationship. It’s quite another to have the onions to go get it. That’s the crux of what’s taking place in the sexy good rom-com on stage now at the Laboratory Theater of Florida in the guise of Neil LaBute’s The Way We Get By.

From the audience’s perspective, The Way We Get By looks pretty simple and straightforward. There are only two characters, Doug and Beth. There’s just one set, a compulsively-clean, ultra-organized minimalist apartment somewhere in Manhattan. There’s just one act with no intermission. It doesn’t get more basic than that.

But there’s more going on than meets the eye, and what meets the eye first is Doug staggering out of a bedroom in the dark in search of a bottle of Smart Water to quench a metaphorically insatiable thirst. Too much alcohol can do that to a guy. So can a night of wanton, unbridled passion.

Both have consequences.

In Doug’s case, those consequences come in the form of a beautiful young woman who soon joins him in the living room wearing nothing but the Star Wars shirt he purchased and had signed by R2D2 at a com-con event. The awkwardness that ensues is palpable. Not because the shirt is undeniable evidence of Doug’s unapologetic nerdiness. Rather than off-putting, Beth finds it endearingly cute. It’s their, er, situation.

These two, it turns out, have h-i-s-t-o-r-y.

Uh huh.

And it’s the kind that could scuttle any chance they have to convert their improvident one night stand into something more meaningful.

The first hint of this comes when Doug declines Beth’s invitation to go back to bed. She’s warm. She’s nearly naked. And her hair’s got that mussed up come-hither appearance that men find so appealing.

Hmmm. Something’s going on here. But what?

Regrettably, more than this cannot be said without giving away the plot and some pretty incredible character arcs. Suffice it to say that Doug and Beth want something for themselves from the other. There’s no denying their physical connection. But can there be more – or should they be content to get by like most people do after a one night stand?

What ensues can be likened to a raw Paso Doble or (excuse the oxymoron) a sexy brand of psychological three-dimensional chess played in maddeningly distracting hipster vernacular. Each partner takes turns advancing then retreating, sidestepping and demurring, throwing up seemingly impenetrable walls and defenses all the while hoping, alternatively, that they are and are not scaled.

In the case of The Way We Get By, you see, it’s not merely the denouement that’s important. It’s the journey or, to be more precise, the end game that’s crucial. (Hint: think T-Swift and Ed Sheeran from Reputation.) The result is a production that’s as smart and sophisticated as any drama you’re likely to see on stage this season anywhere in Southwest Florida.

Steven Coe and Lab newcomer Kendall Millang star as Doug and Beth. They are, in a word, terrific. Their early scenes are remarkable for their subtle, understated quality. The awkwardness they convey is so convincing you can’t help but squirm in your seat with discomfort and empathetic embarrassment. But their early interactions pale by comparison to the angst and emotion they bring as the story progresses. These two possess so much on-stage chemistry that the explosion of emotion they experience toward the end of the play is not just believable. It’s inevitable – with the only question being whether they will emerge as one or go their separate ways.

Artistic Director Annette Trossbach’s direction drips with finesse. She has dissected, deconstructed and reassembled the plot, characters and dialogue with the skill of alchemist. The result is pure gold. She makes what happens on stage seem natural and normal, but what she draws out of her actors is anything but. They understand their characters hopes, fears, wants and desires in a way that leads to impeccable blocking and delivery. That flows from the top down.

Michael Eyth is to be complimented on another excellent set, as does Rosie DeLeon for handling with aplomb the tricky task of creating a lighting design that suggests pre-dawn darkness without concealing any of the action taking place on stage between Millang and Coe.

The Way We Get By has something for every theatrical taste and sensibility, from exceptional playwriting to insightful direction and amazing acting. The only thing missing is you. Go see this play. It’s a journey you need to take.

February 1, 2018.


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