Neil LaBute | Interview
Neil LaBute goes whole hog for a season at Profiles Theatre.
Neil LaBute has officially been pissing people off for a decade. When his daringly unpleasant film In the Company of Men, about two office workers who conspire to romantically screw over a sweet deaf girl, opened in 1997, LaBute became a dartboard for accusations of misogyny. The many subsequent stage works have done little to curb the criticism. Last year, his play Fat Pig, about an obese woman who gets her heart broken by a hottie loser, had a hit run at the indie-spirited Profiles Theatre. This season, Profiles devotes its entire year to LaBute’s work, beginning with Some Girl(s). In a recent phone interview, LaBute gave us an earful about the way his work is perceived, and a thimbleful about the personal life that inspires it.
Fat Pig ran for six months here, which is very rare. It seems to have a wider appeal than most of your work. Do you think the fact that the original New York production was directed by a woman helped shape the show?
Undoubtedly. There were various things that were not in the text that she manufactured for the lead female. She wanted people to really experience what this woman would be experiencing. She didn’t pull back on making sure that we got a physical sensation of her flesh and what it would be like. This girl, she was really eating what I described in the beginning of the play. [The director] put her out there 15 minutes alone onstage [before the play began]. They used that here in the production in Chicago. In the same way, toward the last scene of the play when she’s ready to go to the beach, she doesn’t just appear on the beach in her bathing suit. You see her going through the motions of trying to find an outfit and the difficulty of that choice.
Have you ever dated a girl you considered homely?
Uh, no. I don’t think so.
What does your mom think of your writing?
She likes it. But she likes it in a very motherly way. She’s happy that I’m doing what I like to do and she’s proud. But her feelings about it are very much, you know, she wishes I would write more comedies.
Are other women in your life critical of the way you present women?
Not really. I think they feel that I write pretty strong characters for women. I hear more often that the men should be kind of screeching about the way they’re treated in the plays and movies. Although there’s been that moniker placed on the work of misogyny. In my circle, I hear that the men should be smarting from the treatment they get at my hands.
Are you married?
Is your wife also in the business?
No. Not at all.
Does she read everything you write?
Not everything. No.
Why are the men in your plays so cruel?
I don’t know if there’s a reason.
Would you say that’s an unfair characterization?
Well, no, because there have been cruel ones. But most things that I’ve written in the last decade have been compared to In the Company of Men. Is it as cruel as that? Is it not as cruel? And does it have as much misogyny as that? And even that piece, I felt like the guy was misread in a certain way because that guy was cruel to everybody. And that character I certainly think of as cruel because he had a malicious nature that he enjoyed. He virtually said, “Let’s hurt somebody.” For pleasure. I think since then, while there have been brutal and shallow and misguided and clumsy and ineffectual and bumbling males, there have been very few that have been cruel like that. They’re often lumped into the “why are your men cruel?” category. But the work has been consistently, particularly on the stage, harsh in terms of the portrayal of men.
Did you always view men that way growing up?
I think a lot of the time I did, yeah. I had a difficult relationship with my father. And I think he was instrumental in shaping a lot of how I thought about male authority figures.
Is he still alive?
No, he passed away last year.
Did he see many of your plays?
Virtually none, I would guess.
Profiles is devoting its entire season to your plays. Do you think there’s a theme that unites your body of work?
I don’t know if there is. I think it’s been a study in betrayal, probably. And how it’s easy for people to worry most about themselves.
Who’s your favorite woman?
Probably not a single one. It’s any woman who’s not afraid to be herself. The same sort of quality that I would find in myself and not think of it as a male quality. Someone along the lines of Katharine Hepburn, I guess.
Some Girl(s) opens at Profiles Theatre September 10.