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
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
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
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
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