English Theatre of Hamburg:“This is how it goes“



Von Uta Buhr

Before you say anything about racism in today’s United States of America, think twice! This is the message of Neil Labute’s play “This is how it goes.” Most of us naïve Europeans were of the opinion that racial prejudice between black and white Americans had long been abolished. We even thought that the New World could teach Europeans a lesson concerning racial harmony. However, Neil Labute boldly opens up old wounds und shows us that crude racism still lingers below the surface of Afro-Americans and white Americans alike.

The plot is set in small town America and deals with the repercussions of an interracial love triangle. Cheerleader Belinda, a pretty middle-class blonde, meets Cody, the star of the high school track team, falls in love with him and marries the black athlete. After school Cody starts a remarkable career as a successful businessman while Belinda stays at home with their two kids. Her life as stay-at-home mom and the delicate balance of her marriage with an Afro-American is troubled when a former high school friend – simply called “the man” in the play – turns up in town and rents the small apartment over the couple’s garage. “The man” comes up with embarrassing questions about who Belinda and Cody want to be, who they are and what made them that way. It soon becomes obvious that “the man” is deeply attracted by Belinda. This worries Cody who threatens to throw “the man” out of his house.

The dialogue between the two men is becoming more and more aggressive. Political correctness goes right out of the window as the play deals with prejudice in white and black America today. The play’s title refers to The Man’s frequent breaking of drama’s “Fourth Wall” as he addresses the audience in-between scenes. He prefaces his remarks to set up the next scene with “This how it goes…” or his remarks on the preceding action with “This is how it went…” following his own fantasies as to the past of Belindas and Cody’s relationship. Since his devotion for Belinda goes back to their common days at school, he still is very much in love with her. This makes him an unreliable narrator. Some scenes prove not to have occurred as he relates them and get re-acted in a way that the spectators might find more reasonable or plausible. This remarkable play is a mixture of comedy, drama and “whodunit” in one.

Some words about the author: Neil Labute was born in Detroit/Michigan in 1963, studied at New York University and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. He is one of America’s most successful contemporary authors. His works for the theatre and the screen comprise plays such as “Fat Pig”, The Shape of Things”, “Autobahn”, “In the Company of Men” and last but not least “This is how it goes.” By the way, since Neil Labute calls a spade a spade, some critics call him a cynic.

Final performance: November 13, 2010

Premiere of the next play: “Don’t misunderstand me”, a comedy by Patrick Cargill on November 25, 2010