Ed Harris makes a daring return to the stage in Neil LaBute's 'Wrecks'
"Neil, you're a tough audience."
It was opening night of Neil LaBute's one-man play, "Wrecks," at the Geffen Playhouse on Sunday, and Ed Harris – the one man in question – had just emerged from backstage. Despite the late hour, he looked like he was about to go hiking, although not to Angel's Piano Bar in Santa Monica, where the post-party was already underway. A blue knit cap was pulled down over his head, and he wore a fleece vest over corduroy pants and sneakers.
"I'm not a giggler," LaBute replied.
Indeed. It's probably fair to say that Harris was kidding; the burly playwright was not.
Not that you'd classify "Wrecks" as a comedy. It's a monologue by a man at the funeral for the love of his life, and suffice to say that LaBute – who first made jaws drop with his brutal 1997 film, "In the Company of Men" -- is still the dark bard of male-female relationships.
When LaBute was invited to stage a play in Ireland five years ago, he thought of "Wrecks" -- "a piece that I had that didn't have a home." He asked the intense Harris to take the role.
"He understands that kind of self-made person," the playwright said. "He was not born into that world, so everything he's gotten in his life, he's made happen, and that's who the character is. He's been in a longtime relationship, so he understands the love, the connection with this woman. And he's daring, so he's willing to put himself out there to a place where an audience may say, ‘I don't like you now.' "
From Harris' perspective, a three-week gig in Ireland was a no-brainer. (He went on to reprise the role at New York's Public Theater and for a fundraiser at Culver City's Kirk Douglas Theatre.) And the Oscar-nominated star of "Pollock" was eager to return to the stage after a 10-year absence.
"What I love about it is I've directed a couple of films and worked on some films with people I respected, and we still had problems," he said. "There's no producer telling me how to cut this, no suit is telling me how to edit my vision of this thing, which really gets a bit hard to take in the movie business. I'm not saying that there's not a good idea thrown out, but the constant pressure to do something that's against your own creative impulse is really tough. So this is freedom. This is, like, here I am. Boom."
Celebrating opening night with Harris was his wife, actress Amy Madigan, daughter Lily, and Richard Chamberlain.
-- Irene Lacher
Top photo: Ed Harris and Neil LaBute. Bottom photo: Ed Harris and Amy Madigan with daughter Lily. Credit: Jordan Strauss