Under the burn of a single lightbulb, Rob Hayes sets the stage for an exploration of anxiety, aggression, suicide, mental illness, and loss through three characters in his frenetic new play This Will End Badly. With dark humor and anguished revelation, Hayes crafts a riveting and unsettling look at how men cope in this powerful and pulse-racing monologue.
Hayes does not name his characters but labels them instead. “This Pain” suffers from OCD and once had a dream of writing music for adverts but now can barely leave his apartment. He gets lost in destructive images and the patterns he needs to live his life. “Misery Guts” broke up with his girlfriend and for the two weeks since he has been living with an epic bout of constipation. He is increasingly losing touch with the living as he folds in on himself and his body betrays him. “Meat Cute” trolls bars for women and strategically and methodically plans his sexual conquests. As the play unfolds, with a subtle unraveling (blink and you might miss it), it becomes clear how these disparate characters are connected. Ben Whybrow plays all three.
Hayes’s writing rapidly shifts from funny to devastating to shocking. Misery Guts describes his ever increasing torment as, “it felt like a family of mice in my colon.” Yet for the comedic possibilities in constipation, Hayes never loses sight of the psychological agony that is embedded in the physical. Misery Guts hasn’t spoken to anyone since his break-up. He starts conversations with the doodle in his toilet. He replays scenes from his relationship like a worn out VHS tape and tries to figure out when he became irrelevant to his ex-girlfriend. Between the ardent laughs, there is real distress.
This Pain walks us through the repetition that keeps his life in order: counting the light switch clicks the exact moment the bulb flicks on (“One. One. One. One. One.”) and imagining the sound of harming someone he loves. He gets lost for a moment in the exquisite relief he thinks that violence would give him. Then he must bear the harrowing guilt of thinking about committing such a horrific act. We feel trapped in his head and his lack of escape or solace becomes ours.
As each paints a picture of his extreme world view, the distance between us and them feels less and less. The intimate staging by Clive Judd bridges that gap and Ben Whybrow’s magnetic performance keeps the voices vivid and present. Whybrow often delivers his lines directly to audience members with a fixed gaze. This does not have the formal detachment of a recited monologue. Instead, the play embraces the disconcerting intensity of one-on-one theater. At this performance, one woman in the audience nearly curled up like an armadillo when Meat Cute explained directly to her his willingness to go down on women.
Hayes script is sizzling with unexpected imagery and genuine pathos but the monologue comes to life as Whybrow finds distinct voices for each character. In a flash, he transforms in body and intonation. There’s no trace of Meat Cute’s ” testosterone offensive” when he is supplanted by This Pain. As the play wends on, and you become more familiar with each voice, it seems like Whybrow has conjured some sort of magical spell such that with the wave of a wand he instantly embodies each character effortlessly before your eyes. And with such trickery, the previous character has left no vestige on stage. There is just a haunting memory in your mind.
This Will End Badly will stay with you long after the play has ended like a tender bruise that needs to heal.