Theatre Review: ‘The Way We Get By’ at Pinch ‘N’ Ouch

Grant McGowen and Jackie Costello (Photos by Courtney Lynn Lakin)

Pinch ‘N’ Ouch Theatre is presenting Neil LaBute’s 75-minute romantic comedy/drama “The Way We Get By,” directed by Grant McGowen, running through Nov. 11. Marline Nicolas is the assistant director.

Mr. LaBute—director, screenwriter, and playwright—has become quite well known in the theatre and film worlds, if not to the general public. He’s perhaps best known for his play and film “In the Company of Men”; concerning his play “The Mercy Seat,” he said it shows “a kind of emotional terrorism that we wage on those whom we profess to love.”

If so, both the terrorism and the misanthropic tone he’s known for have been tamped down in “The Way We Get By,” and for this viewer that’s a relief. There’s so much acrimony in the air these days that it’s a pleasure to see what I would call a jumpy romance—one that could blossom into something deeper. By the way, the play had an Off-Broadway run in 2015; this is its Atlanta premiere.

Beth and Doug (Jackie Costello and Grant McGowen) have just spent an enjoyable and mutually satisfying night together, and it’s the morning after. If you wanted to be unkind, you could call it a drunken hookup, but from the beginning it seems more than that.

Doug lumbers in first, with a sort of what-did-I-just-do expression on his face and checks out Beth’s apartment. Soon Beth enters, wearing his collector’s item “Star Wars” T-shirt. Immediate minor conflict: Does she know the value of the shirt and does she care? No, she’s never quite understood what the “Star Wars” ruckus is all about. But—and this is important—she quickly discerns and respects his devotion to it.

And thus the morning after questions and curiosities about each other begin; and each is very solicitous of the other person’s thoughts and feelings. In fact, both are almost on tenterhooks with the other, and there’s a lot of backtracking and clarifying in their conversation. It’s really quite sweet and charming—not at all like many of the caustic and ham-handed retorts that Mr. LaBute is known for.

Tennessee Williams once said, “Of course it is a pity that so much of all creative work is so closely related to the personality of the one who does it.” Be that as it may, this play is soft-pedaled Labute and does not reach for profundity, nor does he seem to “relish the art of thwarting expectations,” as one critic once commented.

What we do have is an amusing, sexy, colloquy with two very attractive young people (both Ms. Costello and Mr. McGowen could be fashion models) who are trying their best not to mess up what could be an important relationship—or maybe not; and therein lies the fun.

There are complications, of course: We learn that they have known each other much longer than we realized; that’s all I’ll say about that. And they are each genuinely trying to follow their hearts and their minds. Beth says, “Truth is never the go-to option, is it?” I really like that; there’s lots of examining and questioning, of each other, of themselves. Late in the play Doug says, “Nobody’s mattered—until now.”

Lest you think the evening too cerebral, remember that Beth and Doug are genuinely attracted to each other—and are not shy about showing it. And they’re both decent people, trying not to merely settle but to do the right thing.

“The Way We Get By” works because of the chemistry, charm, and talent of the two leads, who are the entire cast. Mr. McGowen seemed a bit tentative at first (unusual for him); but then his familiar élan set in, and he and Ms. Costello, who combines quirkiness, charm, and beauty, guide us through a fun evening. Mr. LaBute owes them both a lot.

For tickets and information, visit pnotheatre.org.

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