PHOTGRAPH: MICHAEL BROSILOW
When it comes to crafting twisted tales of men behaving badly, Neil LaBute is a master. Scan through the playwright's body of work and you'll find a psychological horror show, a well-crafted parade of cruelty and mind-games. So it goes with In the Company of Men, a tale of two businessmen and the hapless young deaf woman they target. Directed to chilling impact by Rick Snyder for Profiles' Theatre, the 90-minute piece peels back the facade on entitled, violent, men who are driven by fear and rage.
The play faintly echoes Alfred Hitchcock's Rope, a classic sociological thriller about a pair of young men who murder an acquaintance just to indulge a rush of power. Here, the sadistic Chad (Jordan Brown) ropes his colleague Howard (Brennan Roche) into a savage scheme to bate and hook Christine (Jessica Honor Carleton), a deaf temp worker in their office. The plan: both men shower Christine with affection and attention, priming her like a lamb for the slaughter, and once she's been seduced by the double-press courtship, the men go in for the kill, dropping her like a leper, leaving her broken and profoundly damaged.
Chad and Howard are studies in rage, men obsessed with the notion that others have wronged them both personally and professionally and their plan to ruin Christine is a way to exact revenge and reclaim power. This being LaBute, the plot corkscrews in the final scenes, spiraling into a layer of surprising devastation. This being Profiles, the production is grounded in reliably well-wrought performances.
In Chad, Brown crafts a portrait of a young man who embodies the male gaze at its most malignant, propelled through misogyny that comes as naturally to him as breath. He’s an outwardly charming gentleman harboring the seeds of a sociopath; he’s scary because he’s utterly recognizable.
As Chad's sheep-like follower, Roche plays Howard as a conflicted mix of anger and vulnerability. To stretch a metaphor, Chad is the stone-cold puppet master in this toxic trio and Howard the willing stagehand who becomes lethally entangled in the strings. Christine is, of course, equally ensnared in Chad's noxious scheme, her downfall made all the more wince-inducing because of her handicap. The role requires a hefty dose of five-alarm emoting toward its climax, and Carleton manages the meltdown with a believability that brings that LaBute's psychosexual parable of white male privilege to a wrenching end.
'In the Company of Men' plays at the Profiles' Theatre, playing at The Main Stage, 4139 N. Broadway, through June 30. (773) 549-1815. Tickets start at $35.