In its current production, Second Thought Theatre tackles Neil LaBute’s spindly new play, In a Forest, Dark and Deep, which pits middle-aged siblings against one another in an isolated cabin. The convoluted question of the play is this: If tragedy strikes in the forest and there’s no one there who knows the truth, does it make a difference?
Bobby suspects his sister Betty is lying the minute he storms through the door. Betty asked Bobby to help her pack up the remnants of the cabin’s previous tenant, whom she also mentors at her university. As Bobby fills boxes with books and dishes, he begins to sift through her lies to reveal a much less innocent story.
The actors rush through any kind of insightful development into breathless, angry yelling. There is a lot of yelling in this play.
LaBute’s play is riddled with self-aware clichés: a horror film setting, repeated dialogue like “the truth hurts” and a long-term sibling rivalry. With two unreliable sibling narrators unraveling the play's thorny twists, In a Forest exists somewhere between a thrilling whodunit and an overly tense family drama. But rather than leading us to any capital-t Truths, the play resorts to tense bickering that resolves in a mawkish moment of sibling affection.
Directed by Regan Adair, this 90-minute version is a long, drawn-out fight between Betty and Bobby, played here by Heather Henry and Jeremy Schwartz. The actors deliver the humorous moments in a very dark text, but LaBute’s bitter characters contain little depth to plumb. And the actors rush through any kind of insightful development into breathless, angry yelling. There is a lot of yelling in this play.
Visually, In a Forest, Dark and Deep is compelling. Adair’s set looks like a lived-in Anthropologie store, with crisp, blue bowls and antique books lining wooden bookshelves. And Aaron Johansen’s lighting design vivifies the conveniently coincidental thunderstorm.
Adair gathers the play’s meaning nicely in his sharp design. LaBute’s story explores how humans build their lives to cover up their lies or “sins,” as Bobby refers to them. Underneath her crisp white blouse, Betty is covered in tattoos. Underneath her guise of concerned professor and landlord, there is a more sinister story.
But to discover what lurks In a Forest, Dark and Deep, the audience must go on a long and frustrating journey.
In a Forest, Dark and Deep runs through August 31 at Kalita Humphreys Theater.