A Guide to Modern Playwrights, Plays, and Productions
The Distance From Here

Just about everyone here in London agrees that American Neil LaBute is the most impressive playwright to appear since David Mamet.  LaBute’s new play, The Distance from Here, is premiering at London’s Almeida Theatre and opens in New York later this year, presented by the Manhattan Class Company  as the second in their series of new plays.  The main figure in this shattering tragic-comedy is seventeen-year-old Darrell (Mark Webber), whose aimless life centers upon violence, sex, petty thievery, and manipulation. In the opening scene he and his sidekick Tim (Jason Ritter) taunt the apes at the zoo, while their apparently arrested development suggests that the sign, “Please Do Not Feed the Animals,” might apply equally to simians or homo sapiens.  Not so sure about the sapiens tag.

Shaggy-haired Darrell’s treatment of crew-cut Tim is manipulative, revealing a cruelty masked by concern, egging Tim on to search his private parts when attacked by ants and playfully concealing violence as they spar.  Because they lack vocabulary, their speech is peppered with expletives, and their favorite expression - which betrays both their apathy and their inability to develop thought - is  “whatever.”

            To describe Darrell’s lower-middle-class family as “dysfunctional” is to compliment it.  His young mother Cammie (Amy Ryan) works as a cleaner; her live-in lover Rich (Enrico Colantoni) is employed at a dog-food factory. In their leisure time, in a dingy living-room dominated by a couch, they smoke (constantly), watch television, and engage in sex.(frequently).  Rich, a Stanley Kowalski-type, is having it on with both Cammie and her stepdaughter, Shari (Ana Reeder).  The baby crying incessantly offstage belongs to Shari, who is on welfare. .The baby may be ill, but there is no money to pay a doctor, so they ignore it, regarding it as an annoying object, not a human being:.  ‘Nother hour, I’m not gonna hear shit,” says Cammie, her eyes on the screen as the baby wails

Except for joyless sex, each family member keeps his or her distance; Cammie’s ignoring Darrell as he grew up may be a contributing cause of his adolescent demands for attention. Enraged, he treats as a betrayal his girlfriend’s failure to meet him at the mall where they hang out during school hours at Washington High.  When Tim, who may be hankering for some distance between them, says he cannot join Darrell because of working the night shift at a fast food establishment, Darrell says he will be there to check up. Darrell, asking his mother if she remembers how he made forts on the porch when he was little, is told, “You’re on your own with the Kodak memories and shit.. . .To tell the truth, as an individual, you never made that big an impression.”

            Darrell is determined to make an impression as he increasingly becomes more aggressive, pounding on Rich until they land on the floor, and accusing Tim and girlfriend Jennie of desertion.  Egocentric and amoral, he is maddened to discover that Jennie was sexually involved with another man two years earlier, when she was fifteen.  But he is relieved to learn that the man beat her without having sex : “He hit her?  That’s all he did.  Hit her.”  Even when she tells Darrell she enlisted the man’s help to bring about an abortion when impregnated by Darrell, he persists in his manic revenge, taunting Tim and Jennie and then, despite their frantic efforts to restrain him, destroying the baby.

Meanwhile, the behavior of the others is revealing  When the baby and Darrell disappear, Cammie searches for them until she is exhausted. Shari, the baby’s mother, proposes that she and Rich run off together, and put some distance between them and their seedy milieu: “to do something really different, too, I mean, some kinda thing that nobody’d expect outta us.  You and me.  Maybe add a deck, or a patio.”

If there is no hope for Darrell, there is some for Jennie and Tim.  They desperately try to save the baby while fighting off the crazed Darrell, and afterwards, they keep returning to the freezing pool, into which Tim dives in an attempt to retrieve the body. Having taken off with his mother’s credit card and used Impala, Darrell has not been found.

Tautly directed by David Leveaux and well acted by the ensemble, “The Distance from Here” is a shattering work. LaBute has said that he hopes the audience will continue to think about his plays after the curtain falls.  He has our assurance that this is so with “The Distance from Here.” Among other things, it sheds light on the student murderers at Columbine  And the adult ones at Laramie.