Certain things happen in cars. The glass-and-steel biosphere known as the front seat is the setting for the six mini-plays in Neil LaBute’s repetitive and tedious “autobahn” (which premiered earlier this year in Washington, D.C.) currently in an overheated Midwest debut at Profiles Theatre. Driving or riding, the car experience is specific—and specifically banal; an extension of, and escape from, life’s little routines. The works here, however, are less concerned with the automotive theme than LaBute’s preoccupation with semantics, self-justification and the warped ways in which we communicate with one another. There is always an unseemly secret lurking in corners of his work (which includes the movies “In the Company of Men” and “Nurse Betty”) and in a full-length play, the narrative—twisted and dangerous-seeming as it may be—can unspool and reveal itself within a larger context. LaBute’s style is less successful in this short format, where the unrelated plays—long scenes, really—quickly become formulaic and game-like. You spend your time trying to guess at the perversity instead of becoming emotionally involved with the characters. It doesn’t help that director Darrell W. Cox tends to push his actors to overplay their moments when subtlety would get the job done more effectively. The strongest piece is the first, about a young couple parked in a secluded make-out spot. He is the post-grad teaching assistant (a perfectly dorky and overwhelmed Eric Burgher); she is the blue-collar townie with psycho-girlfriend tendencies that might be somewhat justified. The play is funny and makes its points deftly. The same can’t be said for the remaining five, which are flat and slow-going despite all the nasty LaButian undertones. (Nina Metz)
This production is now closed.