The loaded situation in writer-director Neil LaBute’s “love story” allows for a kind of velvet glove to reach inside one’s heart, and then swirls around the intestines for a while before making its withdrawal. This leaves us, well, touched — but in a way that’s far from sentimental. Ed Harris stars in this monologue, set in a Northern Illinois funeral home. His wife’s casket — her photo perched on its lid — forms the centerpiece of Sibyl Wickersheimer’s set. Cricket S. Meyers’ sound design offers the whispers and echoes of voices in an anteroom, where our bereaved widower, Ed Carr (Harris), ostensibly floats — that would be his public self. But that’s not what we’re seeing. He refers to himself being “back there” with “them” while he speaks to us through the mirror of his subconscious. What we get is his real eulogy, with the secrets he won’t tell them, because he’s a private person, he insists. (He won’t tell us some secrets, such as his wife’s final four words, either.) He has a blazingly clear reason to be so private, which is the melodramatic revelation near play’s end, which forces us to confront the definition of love, and how that definition rubs up against social propriety. I didn’t buy that revelation, not within the colloquial, ruminative and realistic confines of LaBute’s direction. But that’s a small matter. The big matter is the gorgeous combination of LaBute’s digressive and piercingly insightful love letter with Harris’ tender-furious childlike and ultimately profound interpretation. Ed Carr is a bit like a chain-smoking Dostoyevskian narrator, who, while drifting onto free-associated topics and bilious commentary (on anti-smoking campaigns, for example), he is, finally, on message. And his message about the essence of love is upsetting and unimpeachable in the same breath. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Wstwd.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat, 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru March 7. (310) 208-5454.
Sundays, 2 p.m.; Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 3 & 8 p.m. Starts: Feb. 7. Continues through March 7, 2010
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