In “Autobahn,” Neil LaBute has written a provocative series of playlets featuring characters seated in cars that each conclude with a squirm-inducing twist. Although the device becomes somewhat repetitive as the skits unfold, it’s a clever collection certain to please LaBute’s expanding legion of devotees.
The six one-acts typically feature a pair of travelers, one decidedly chattier than the other and revealing of a character flaw or unsettling event to an unnerved companion. They’re presented on a raw stage featuring a straight line of chairs and a single steering wheel that follows the spotlight. They also reveal LaBute’s well-known gift for dialogue that adroitly illuminates plot and personality.
In the opening “Bench Seat,” for example, a teenage couple is parked on a lovers’ lane engaged in adolescent discussion of their relationship. Slowly, the female (played innocently by Veronica del Cerro) reveals a vindictive streak that would make “Fatal Attraction” seem tame.
“Merge” has husband James Konicek driving wife Vanessa Vaughn home from a business trip; she sheepishly reveals engaging in extracurriculars that most spouses would disapprove of.
In “Road Trip,” a young girl is being driven across the country by an elderly male teacher. She is respectful but clearly nervous as he patronizes her en route to a secret destination, methodically confirming our fears about his intentions. It is a very effective piece featuring Jesse Terrill and a poised Paloma Ellis.
The world premiere, staged by Erica Gould, is part of an ongoing three-play LaBute festival at Studio Theater that also includes “Fat Pig” and “Seconds of Pleasure,” an hour of readings from his short-story collection. It follows the success here during the 2002-03 season of LaBute’s “The Shape of Things.”
“Autobahn” was recently workshopped by Gould at the Cape Cod Theater Project and figured in a New York benefit with Brian Dennehy, Amanda Peet and Susan Sarandon.