AISLE SAY San Francisco


by Neil LaBute
Presented by Aurora Theatre Company
Directed by Tom Ross
Aurora Theatre
2081 Addison St., Berkeley, CA / (510) 843-4822

Reviewed by Judy Richter

An already shaky marriage is shaken even more when a third person enters the scene in Neil LaBute's searing "This Is How It Goes," presented by Aurora Theatre Company.

The marriage is between Belinda (Carrie Paff, whose character is called Woman in the program), a white woman, and Cody Phipps (Aldo Billingslea), a black man. The third person, called Man (we never learn his real name), is a white man played by Gabriel Marin.

The three of them were in high school together 15 years ago, but Man left their small Midwestern town after graduation, served in the Army, got married and became a lawyer. He returns after losing his job and wife. By chance, he runs into Belinda at a shopping mall and winds up renting an apartment over the Phipps' garage.

Man also serves as the narrator. Introducing the play, he cautions that his descriptions aren't necessarily reliable. He even has Cody and Belinda enacting two versions of a scene for which he wasn't present.

That first meeting between Man and Belinda is understandably awkward, but there's a spark of attraction that for him began in high school. When he asks Belinda about her marriage, her vagueness signals that all is not right.

The reason becomes apparent when Cody first appears. One of the few blacks in town, he's a successful businessman who's proud of his status. He also has a chip on his shoulder and becomes jealous and suspicious of Man. Soon racism becomes a major issue that brings out even more negative behavior and volatility.

This 2005, one-act play runs a swift 100 minutes, thanks to ATC artistic director Tom Ross and his outstanding cast. Along the way it takes numerous twists and turns, some predicated on something as seemingly mundane -- in the larger scale of things -- as a rare Jackie Robinson baseball trading card.

With his imposing stage presence as Cody, Billingslea embodies the character's ability to intimidate others, keeping the audience on edge, too. Paff's Belinda does her best to try to placate him and cater to Man as their guest, but Cody will have none of it. Marin's Man comes across as garrulous and not always sure of himself, but he does a great job of propelling the story and action.

Kim A. Tolman's set for the intimate space consists mainly of a back wall covered by sheets of writing, augmented by a few pieces of furniture such as a bench. Kurt Landisman's lighting design differentiates between Man as narrator and Man as participant. Costumes by Laura Hazlett are notable for Belinda's attractive outfits. The sound is by Chris Houston.

This is not a play for the faint of heart. It deals directly and sometimes profanely with thorny issues, but it's also an intelligent, provocative examination of those issues.

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