LaBute, Neil 1963-
LABUTE, Neil 1963-
PERSONAL: Born March 19, 1963, in Detroit, MI; married Lisa Gore (a family therapist; separated); children: Lily, Spencer. Education: Brigham Young University, received degree in theater; also attended University of Kansas, New York University, and Royal Academy of London. Religion: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon).
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Faber and Faber, 3 Queen Sq., London WC1N 3AU, England.
CAREER: Writer, playwright, director, and producer. Directed numerous films, including In the Company of Men, 1997, Your Friends and Neighbors, 1998, Tumble, 2000, Nurse Betty, 2000, Possession, 2002, and The Shape of Things, 2003. Appeared as an actor in High School Spirits, 1986.
AWARDS, HONORS: Award for Drama, Association for Mormon Letters, 1993, for In the Company of Men; Filmmakers Trophy from Sundance Film Festival, 1997, Best Original Screenplay Award from Texas Film Critics Award, and Best First Film award from New York Film Critics Circle, all for film version of In the Company of Men.
(With others) Scenes to Come (plays; includes LaBute's "Filthy Talk for Troubled Times,"), first produced in New York, NY, at the Greenwich House Theatre, 1989.
Time Traveler CD (computer file), Multi Dimensional Communications (Pound Ridge, NY), 1992.
(And director and producer) In the Company of Men (also see below), first produced in Provo, UT, at the Theatre at Brigham Young University, 1992.
Bash: A Gaggle of Saints (three one-act plays; contains "A Gaggle of Saints," "Iphigenia in Orem," and "Medea Redux"; first produced in Los Angeles, CA, at the Masquers Café, 1994), published as Bash: A Remembrance of Hatred and Longing, Sunstone, 1995, revised edition published as Bash: Latterday Plays, Faber & Faber (London, England), 2000, published as Bash: Three Plays, Overlook Press (Woodstock, NY), 2001.
In the Company of Men (screenplay; based on LaBute's play of the same title; produced by Sony Pictures, 1997), Faber & Faber (Boston, MA), 1997.
(And director) Your Friends and Neighbors (screenplay), Gramercy, 1998, Faber & Faber (London, England), 1998.
Tumble (screenplay), 2000.
The Shape of Things (play; produced in London, England, at the Almeida Theatre, 2001; also see below), Faber & Faber (London, England), 2001.
The Distance from Here (one-act play; first produced in London, England, at the Almeida Theatre, 2002), Overlook Press (Woodstock, NY), 2003.
The Mercy Seat (play; first produced in New York, NY, at the Primary Stages Theatre, 2002), Faber & Faber (New York, NY), 2003.
(With others) A Moment of Bliss (plays; includes LaBute's "Coax"), first produced in New York, NY, at the Primary Stages Theater, 2002.
(With others) Brave New World (plays; includes LaBute's "Land of the Dead"), first produced in New York, NY, at the Town Hall Theatre, 2002.
The Shape of Things (screenplay; based on LaBute's play of the same title), USA films, 2003.
Fat Pig (play; first produced off-Broadway, 2004), Faber & Faber (New York, NY), 2004.
Seconds of Pleasure: Stories, Grove Press (New York, NY), 2004.
This Is How It Goes (play; first produced in New York, NY, at the Public Theatre, 2005), Faber & Faber (New York, NY), 2005.
Autobahn: Short Plays, Faber & Faber (New York, NY), 2005.
Wrecks (play), first produced in Ireland at the Cork Theatre, 2005.
Author of other plays, including Lepers, Ravages, Rounder, Sanguinarians and Sycophants, and adaptations of Dracula and Woyzeck. Author of introduction to Nurse Betty, by James Flaberg and John C. Richards, Newmarket Press, 2000. Has published an article in Harper's Bazaar.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Writing and directing the film Vapor; writing, directing, and producing the film The Wicker Man; writing and directing the television miniseries Lilac Lane for Showtime.
SIDELIGHTS: Neil LaBute has written plays, screenplays, and fiction, as well as directed and produced both plays and movies. His first major success was In the Company of Men, a 1992 play about two frustrated men who set out to callously hurt a deaf woman; it was also adapted by LaBute into a widely praised 1997 film. Since then, he has written and/or directed several plays and movies that look at the unsavory side of human nature. In his play The Mercy Seat, for example, LaBute examines the effects of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, DC. He tells the story of Abby and Ben, who escape death in the World Trade Center because they are having an affair and were at Abby's apartment rather than at work. The younger, unhappily married Ben sees the attack as a way to escape his marriage by faking his own death; he then hopes to run away with Abby. Hollywood Reporter critic Frank Scheck felt that "the writer has somewhat fumbled the ball here. The characterizations are vague and diffuse, and Ben's motivations are even more so." John Lahr, writing more favorably in the New Yorker, called the play "magnificent," and noted that "LaBute, who also directs, is a subtle storyteller, and his furtive heart reveals itself through cunning, powerful indirection. Here, he lets the accumulation of detail … lure the imagination into a numbed terrain of unspoken desperation."
In The Shape of Things, which premiered as a stage play in 2001 and was made into a film in 2003, LaBute reverses the gender roles he established in In the Company of Men. He explores how a young college graduate student named Evelyn emotionally torments a museum security guard named Adam, a slightly younger student she began dating after he stopped her from defacing a statue. Evelyn sets out to change everything about Adam, transforming him from a wallflower to an attractive man, only to betray him. Some reviewers found LaBute's dismal view of relationships overwhelming. For example, Entertainment Weekly contributor Owen Gleiberman called LaBute "a gifted and corrosive wordsmith who appears intent on shoving all romantic couplings into the meat grinder of his misanthropic design." However, Dennis Harvey, writing in the Daily Variety, commented that "this adaptation of LaBute's 2001 play provides a queasy investigation of male-female relations that ends with a satisfying shudder of recognition at the extreme cruelty possible within human relationships." In a review of the stage version of The Shape of Things, Sarasota Herald Tribune contributor Charlie Huisking noted, "in the biting drama … LaBute is clearly interested in exploring issues of power and manipulation, as well as society's obsession with youthful good looks," and Spectator contributor Rachel Halliburton dubbed the play "a poison-pen letter to a superficial age."
In the one-act play The Distance from Here, LaBute turns his focus on teenage violence and the world of those on the lower end of the social totem pole. Tim and Darrell are two young men who realize that they are going nowhere in life. Darrell is inarticulate and raging inside at his mother's lack of caring and his own jealously over his girlfriend, Jenn, whom Tim finds attractive. Darrell's feelings of discontentment eventually explode into a play-ending act of violence. Writing in Daily Variety, Marilyn Stasio commented that LaBute "fails to get under the skin of the problem," adding: "Although his trailer-trash characters are keenly observed through the fog of cigarette smoke and beer fumes that envelops their native habitat, they don't have his sympathy."
LaBute's more recent play Fat Pig is about a young, attractive man named Tom, who meets and develops a relationship with a young, overweight woman named Helen. As they begin dating, Tom falls in love with Helen, but he soon faces the derision of his coworkers and others. Coming to the realization that he cannot deal with the public perception of his "fat" girlfriend, he ultimately ends the relationship. Alexis Greene, writing in the Hollywood Reporter, said that the author "successfully dramatizes human weakness here. His office dialogue jumps with the gibes of selfish people out to destroy Tom's romance."
LaBute's short fiction has been collected in Seconds of Pleasure: Stories. Most of these tales are along the same thematic lines as his plays and screenplays in that they depict the darker side of relationships between men and women. These relationships are poisoned by their psychotic nature and are therefore doomed. For instance, in one story an encounter with a prostitute results in the making of a snuff film. A Publishers Weekly contributor felt that the stories are "a little sadistic," but noted that the author's "rapid-fire dialogue vividly captures provocative moments of conflict in some stories." Allison Block, writing in Booklist, noted that the author's "smart, edgy offering delivers pleasures well beyond the time frame his title suggests." Although Catherine Mallette detected a distinctive "cynical tone" in the tales, she added in her Fort Worth Star-Telegram review: "Even if you don't like his message, LaBute shows himself to be an excellent storyteller."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Theatre, Film, and Television, Volume 47, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 2003.
Booklist, August, 2004, Allison Block, review of Seconds of Pleasure: Stories, p. 1899.
Chicago Tribune, May 6 and 9, 2003, Mark Caro, ldquo;Neil LaBute's Latest Film Takes 'Shape' Thanks to Elvis Costello."
Daily Variety, January 13, 2003, Jonathan Bing, "LaBute Sells Story Collection," p. 47; January 22, 2003, Dennis Harvey, review of The Shape of Things, p. 12; May 8, 2003, Jill Goldsmith, "Dark Side Appeals to Neil," p. 1; January 12, 2004, Denise Martin, "Labute Drives 'Lane': Small Town Soap on Showtime's Fast Track," p. 14; March 11, 2004, Robert Hofler, "LaBute in Driver's Seat," p. 27; May 7, 2004, Marilyn Stasio, review of The Distance from Here, p. 4; March 4, 2005, Robert Hofler, "LaBute's Sweet on Peet to Top 'Goes,'" p. 2.
Dallas Morning News, May 6, 2003, Chris Vognar, "L'amour? What a Bore—Director Neil LaBute Prefers War."
Entertainment Weekly, May 16, 2003, Owen Gleiberman, review of The Shape of Things, p. 50; October 15, 2004, Michelle Kung, "But What Directors Really Want to Do Is Write …," p. 78.
Financial Times, August 31, 2002, Holly Finn, "In the Company of LaBute" (interview), p. 7.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram, October 20, 2004, Catherine Mallette, review of Seconds of Pleasure.
Hollywood Reporter, December 20, 2002, Frank Scheck, review of The Mercy Seat, p. 30; May 21, 2004, Frank Scheck, review of The Distance from Here, p. 64; December 16, 2004, Alexis Greene, review of Fat Pig, p. 16.
Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2004, review of Seconds of Pleasure, p. 707.
Library Journal, September 1, 2004, Joshua Cohen, review of Seconds of Pleasure, p. 145.
New Statesman, June 7, 2004, Michael Portillo, review of The Shape of Things, p. 44.
New Yorker, January 6, 2003, John Lahr, review of The Mercy Seat, p. 88; May 19, 2003, David Denby, review of The Shape of Things p. 94.
Publishers Weekly, January 20, 2003, John F. Baker, "Fiction from a Dramatist," 16; June 28, 2004, review of Seconds of Pleasure, p. 29.
Sarasota Herald Tribune, January 4, 2004, Charlie Huisking, review of The Shape of Things, p. G1.
Spectator, May 29, 2004, Rachel Halliburton, review of The Shape of Things, p. 44.
Variety, August 26, 2002, "Sigourney Weaver Toplines Neil LaBute's 'The Mercy Hour,'" p. 53; December 20, 2004, David Rooney, review of Fat Pig, p. 77; January 17, 2005, Karen Fricker, "Irish Get Peet at LaBute, Friel," p. 41.
Internet Movie Database, http://www.imdb.com/ (May 18, 2005), "Neil LaBute."
Salon.com, http://www.salon.com/ (May 18, 2005), Jennie Yabroff, interview with LaBute.