The men in Mr. LaBute’s morally complex “The Mulberry Bush,” like Peter and Jerry in Edward Albee’s classic one-act “The Zoo Story,” are strangers in a park. Their meeting is not accidental, though it appears that way at first to quiet, distinguished-looking Bill (Victor Slezak), who often eats lunch on a secluded bench. Younger and seemingly lower-class, Kip (J. J. Kandel) has come to accuse Bill — to specify the charge would be a spoiler — and defend his own family.
Echoes of “The Zoo Story” reverberate through “The Mulberry Bush,” but the Albee-like chill that permeates Maria Mileaf’s production doesn’t serve Mr. LaBute well. The gut-dropping sensation that ought to accompany Kip’s accusations never comes. But a deep reservoir of compassion feeds Mr. LaBute’s portrait of Bill, a determinedly deluded man struggling against what’s ugliest and most dangerous in himself. In a beautifully restrained performance, Mr. Slezak allows us to feel Bill’s agony and forces us, gently, to acknowledge humanity where it might be easier to see a monster.
By LAURA COLLINS-HUGHES August 5, 2014