Doug awakens in an apartment that's very nice, if a little heavy on purple accents. He wanders to the fridge, to the TV and eventually sits quietly on the couch. His fidgeting and meandering confirm that we've caught him in the aftermath of a one-night stand, and he's dutifully waiting until the other person wakes up before leaving. Also, he has no pants on, just briefs and a t-shirt — where's he going to go?
When Beth emerges wearing just a Star Wars shirt and panties, it's clear she's ready for round two. (The shirt itself is catnip to Doug's entire generation.) She moves in for a kiss, but Doug starts talking and slips past her to a safe distance. What's going on?
What follows in Neil LaBute's The Way We Get By is more talking by Doug, often in widening circles, and more pursuing by Beth (she knows what she wants). The current production of the show at St. Louis Actors' Studio, directed by Nancy Bell, has the sharp timing and strong, focused performances that LaBute's verbose script requires. If actors Andrew Rea and Sophia Brown aren't right on time for the hand-off when Doug starts spinning his wheels, you'd be in for a long 90 minutes. But these two make their passes gracefully and naturally, and The Way We Get By ends up being a pointed and entertaining play about the value of being selfish when it comes to choosing love over loneliness.
Think of those billows of words as safety cushions for Doug. He's in over his head and he knows it. He's stalling in order to figure out if he can bolt or if Beth deserves an explanation for why this won't go to date two.
Beth is tall, good-looking and has an arsenal of deeply cut V-neck shirts and thigh-high socks. She can't understand why words are getting in the way. She's also nursing a strong dislike for her never-seen roommate, Kim, who is very controlling of everything that goes on in the apartment. Some of that is starting to bleed into her dealing with Doug and his endless circumlocution.
But this is Neil LaBute. All those words are leading somewhere, as improbable as that sounds. Doug's ineffective explanations of himself and Beth's inquiries into his motives detour through a discussion of the exploitative nature of American Apparel's past advertising, the price exacted by Beth's beauty (people view her as a "prize to be won," not a person) and how it's easier to play it safe than it is to take risks. Also disclosed is just how long they've known each other, and how they know each other, and why writing off last night's escapades and moving on might well be the safe choice.
Doug and Beth have spent their adult lives moving on. When the time comes to walk away and not look back, one of them decides to take a risk — that sort of thing can be contagious, and end up ruining lives and spoiling what was a beautiful night.
Fortunately, Kim is the only one hurt in the ensuing carnage, and you walk out feeling optimistic, and full of the revolutionary feeling of being inspired by love against all odds.