In Neil LaBute’s new play, a court–ordered rehabilitation brings two estranged brothers together to reconsider a mutual childhood. Frederick Weller, Ron Livingston and Louisa Krause star in the world premier of this troubling and intensely emotional drama. Livingston (Office Space, Sex and the City) discusses his return to the stage in this classically structured play, where the real action happens underneath the surface of things.
The L Magazine: This is a dark, dark play. Ron Livingston: Yeah, it’s a dark house. (laughs)
The L: A really dark house, and you play a very troubled character. What interested you in working on something this… dark? RL: I don’t know (more laughs). It’s one of those things where, when I read it, it really captured the imagination, but I didn’t think about the fact that I have to do this seven times a week. It is definitely a difficult mountain to climb. I think especially for Fred [Weller] it’s such a big emotional mountain to climb, but he’s fantastic in it. You saw it pretty early on. It’s come a long way even since then.
The L: Well, I suppose since it’s a brand new play there is a lot to work out; are you still finding out new things about these characters? RL: We are finding out a lot. The audience helps teach us.
The L: Are you discovering things to love about this character, even with all his difficulty? RL: Oh definitely. I think both of these characters. It’s a play about two brothers trying to recover their relationship with each other that has been so badly damaged by the circumstances in which they grew up. So ultimately it’s a play about healing, and people’s capacity to heal. To me that’s interesting, and that’s kind of what drew me to it.
The L: It does have that hopeful message somewhere in there. RL: Yeah, as dark as it is they’re both still there. They’re both alive and trying to figure it out. And they’re trying to move forward.
The L: Just based on the work you are most known for, generally comedic or good guy-type roles, how does it feel to throw people off and do something different? RL: It’s been fun to do. The thing is, it costs a lot of money to make a movie. About four or five million dollars at least, generally, so anytime somebody spends that kind of money they get really nervous and they tend to want to hire people who they have seen do exactly the thing that they think they want. I think in the theater people are willing to take more of a chance to see if you’re going to be able to bring something to it. Ultimately, Drew [Livingston’s character] is kind of a liar, or he’s certainly got a fluid relationship with the truth, and he’s a bit of a manipulator. A lot of times those people are also very charming, they almost have to be to continue to manipulate people. So that is an important part of it. But, you know, people are people… I can’t believe I just said people are people.
The L: You have a history in theater, how do you feel coming back to the stage? RL: It’s been a long time. It’s probably been 12 or 13 years since I started doing more TV and film stuff. I have found that [my theater muscle] is in better shape than the other muscles that I haven’t used in 12 years, but not by much.
The L: What are some of the big adjustments you’ve had to make? RL: The film stuff teaches you to be smaller and more intimate, and so when you get back up on stage, you have to find a comfort level with filling all the space around you again. But Neil’s dialogue is very naturalistic. It’s very back and forth. He has very naturalistic ear for dialogue, which I think is kind of what most film is. When you do movies it’s almost always naturalistic, so coming back with this play — it feels natural.