This latest play by Neil La Bute (who also directs this production) tackles some pretty difficult themes within a sibling relationship. On a stormy evening, Betty is waiting for her brother Bobby to help her to clear out a cabin which she wants to make presentable for prospective tenants. She tells Bobby the cabin is an investment property she has bought with her husband. When Bobby arrives, the contrast between him and his sister cannot be any clearer. He is boorish, a man who speaks his mind and a man who thinks real work is the work you do with your hands. She, on the other hand, is a sophisticated college dean, bookish, married with two children and, on the surface, living a respectable life that is expected of her.
Within minutes of arriving, the sparks start to fly between Bobby and Betty. Bobby accuses Betty of being stupid and she caustically reminds him that she has more money than him. Initially these verbal exchanges make you think that these two characters have not quite grown out of their child like competitiveness but, as the play develops, you soon realise that there is a dark side to each of them, both as individuals and as siblings. The same must be said for the cliched phrase ( ‘truth hurts’ ) that Bobby uses a few times in the beginning which will seem trite but, at the very end, you realise that you have mistakenly dismissed it as an overused meaningless phrase. All is never what it seems.
Despite their explosive relationship, their underlying love for each other becomes more and more evident, but the nature of their love is much more than a brotherly sisterly one and this is especially so on Bobby’s side. However unpleasant Bobby sounds and however deceptive Betty turns out to be, it is difficult not to sympathise with Bobby’s angst ridden love for his sister and Betty’s creeping vulnerability as she gets old. And this is due to the sensitive portrayals from Matthew Fox and Olivia Williams respectively. At times, some of the acting and the chemistry between them seemed a bit uneven but I am sure these will be ironed out in no time.
It is not all gloom and doom in this play for there are some funny one liners. You don’t have to be a fan of The New Yorker to appreciate the dig against the snobbery amongst some of its readers. At one point, when they are briefly discussing music, Bobby tells Betty, ‘U2 used to be good until that guy decided he was Jesus Christ’ and ‘Don’t buy anything after Joshua Tree’. Talking about music, the soundtrack before and after the play deserves a big thumbs up. Any theatrical production that plays Led Zeppelin will always have my vote.
The world premiere of In a Forest, Dark and Deep is on 14 March. The production runs till 4 June.
Running time: approximately 100 minutes with no interval.