‘Company of Men’ hauntingly disturbing, yet irresistible
By Hedy Weiss Theater Criticfirstname.lastname@example.org May 20, 2013 8:51PM
Jordan Brown (from left), Jessica Honor Carleton and Brennan Roche star in "The Company of Men" at Profiles Theatre.
‘IN THE COMPANY
When: Through June 30
Where: Profiles Theatre, 4139 N. Broadway
Info: (773) 549-1815; www.profilestheatre.org
Run time: 95 minutes, with no intermission
Updated: June 22, 2013 6:24AM
‘Let’s hurt someone... really mess them up.”
That is the savage rallying cry of Chad, the young middle manager of a big advertising company who is at the volcanic epicenter of Neil LaBute’s play, “In the Company of Men.” Chad’s victim will be a woman; his feral misogyny is even more intense and quasi-psychopathic than his self-loathing. But there will be collateral damage, too. How could there not be?
LaBute’s work, most widely known from the 1997 film version directed by the playwright, is now “in the flesh” in a Profiles Theatre production specially revised and appended for the Chicago storefront company at which he is Resident Artist. It has been directed by Rick Snyder, the Steppenwolf veteran who has demonstrated an uncanny flair for plays that tap into the primal treachery of the human animal (and to be sure, that is LaBute’s stock-in-trade). And he has assembled an ideal cast.
This play is both painful and horrifying to sit through. And while I don’t make it a practice to “review the audience,” one of the most disturbing things about watching it with a full house Sunday night was the raucous laughter it often generated. This is a show about emotional torture. True, on some deep level it may also be about how fragile the male ego can be in the face of rejection, but it is an in-your-face assault on women.
Though only in his late twenties, Chad (Jordan Brown, chilling for the full force with which he plunges into his reprehensible character) already has a whiff of his own mediocrity. And the departure of his live-in girlfriend of four years is the only hair trigger needed to set his plan to “hurt someone” in motion.
To start, he churns up the rage meter in his longtime friend and co-worker, Howard (Brennan Roche, a fine mix of nerdy, bright and real), whose fiancee recently broke their engagement. Chad’s plan? Find a girl they can charm, seduce, string along, use and finally dump — leaving her as emotionally trashed as possible. And wouldn’t you know it: She is right there — Christine (Jessica Honor Carleton is magic), an attractive temporary secretary with “porcelain skin” and a lovely figure. She also happens to be deaf.
Christine is a charmer — shy, but just flirty enough, and with a well-honed sense of humor about her disability that puts others at ease. She also is understandably flattered that she is winning male attention as both Chad and Howard “pursue” her. As it happens, both men also fall in love with her in their particular ways (and she with one of them). And that’s when things really go amok.
Carleton is utterly beguiling as a woman whose every vulnerability is played on, and whose exhilaration at suddenly being desired leads her to make bad decisions. In addition, her vocal intonations are so perfect you would swear she was truly deaf.
An ensemble of eight actors creates just the right sense of office politics. And Thad Hallstein’s set (an office men’s room, work cubicles, a bed) allows for seamless transitions.
At one point early on Chad prods Howard into collaborating, saying they will be creating “a tiny treasure of cruelty” they can take with them for the rest of their lives. With such rage, love will be all but impossible.