It’s 1:40 a.m. in a well-maintained, fairly spacious New York City apartment. Doug (Eric Clem), obviously here for the first time, gets some water from the refrigerator, and turns on the TV. Soon, Beth (Turna Mete him), who lives here with a female roommate (staying elsewhere tonight), emerges from the bedroom and joins him in the living room.
They begin to talk. Awkwardly. She seems to be analyzing his every word, and rolls her eyes when she doesn’t like what she hears. He, a more easygoing sort of guy, seems a bit annoyed to be scrutinized. At first, it appears that they have met each other for the first time tonight. And yet … it soon becomes apparent that they actually have some history.
The audience at “The Way We Get By,” which is currently being presented by the American Theater Group at the Hamilton Stage of the Union County Performing Arts Center in Rahway, is kept in the dark at first, via vague language.
“So what are we doing here?” she asks.
He wants to “think it through” and “assess the damage.”
“Damage!” she snorts. It’s not how she would categorize their new relationship.
“I don’t want to rush this,” he says. But what is this? He describes it only as “our situation.”
The whole truth comes out, eventually, in this taut, 90-minute, two-person play, written by Neil LaBute and directed by Kel Haney. Because the exact nature of Doug and Beth’s relationship is not revealed immediately — and because Clem and Mete manage to make them seem like such a likable, albeit neurotic pair — we hang on every word, trying to figure it out. Trying to figure them out, too.
Where is this all going? Should Doug go home, or should he stick around? And do they want to go back to the bedroom and resume what they were just doing? (A warning to anyone thinking of bringing children or teens: There is some nudity and sexuality in this play).
It all works out, kind of: LaBute’s ending offers some hope without sweeping the possible future difficulties in this relationship under the carpet. I won’t tell you how it ends, of course, but will let you know that LaBute has come up with something that puts a cathartic — and genuinely surprising — cap on all that has come before.