An old high school friend (r, Gabriel Marin*) looks longingly at Belinda (c, Carrie Paff*) as Cody (l, Aldo Billingslea*) speaks to her sharply in the Bay Area Premiere of This is How It Goes. Photo: David Allen
An old high school friend (r, Gabriel Marin) looks longingly at Belinda (c, Carrie Paff) as Cody (l, Aldo Billingslea) speaks to her sharply in Aurora Theatre’s production of This is How It Goes. Photo: David Allen

Aurora Theatre’s final production of the season is also its finest of the season. Provocative playwright and screenwriter Neil LaBute (Fat Pig, Reasons to be Pretty, In the Company of Men), presents us with an outstanding dark comedy in which nothing is quite what it seems. Even after the play ends, the audience is left to wonder where the truth lies. And that’s just one of the many attributes of this taut 2005 play that has already fascinated audiences in New York and London, among others.

This is How It Goes is a three-character piece about the blond, stay-at-home mother and former cheerleader, Belinda Phipps (fantastic Carrie Paff), her black, athletic, successful and driven husband, Cody Phipps (terrific Aldo Billingslea) and the unnamed smart-ass male narrator, “Man” (exceptional Gabriel Marin) who returns to their Midwestern hometown, rents a studio apartment above the Phipps’ garage and turns their three lives upside down. 

Belinda and Cody appear to have a good life together, but we watch the way in which Man’s presence changes the dynamics of the couple’s relationship. The three went to high school together. Glimpses of their high school personae return with their reacquaintance — Belinda wanted to be noticed, Cody demanded respect, and Man wanted the girl he never got.

Early in the play, Man explains to the audience that he is an “unreliable narrator.” That’s important to keep in mind. In fact, Man presents two versions of one scene, explaining that since Man wasn’t in that scene, he can only imagine what might have occurred. So he presents the audience with a more palatable or plausible version of the scene that they may prefer.

The use of an unreliable narrator is wonderfully creative. It exposes fascinating and meaty issues. Man frequently crashes through drama’s fourth wall as he talks to the audience between scenes. He sets up the next scene with “This is how it goes…” or he remarks on the preceding action with “This is how it went…”

The play soberly presents the triad with all their faults and foibles. LaBute doesn’t shrink from exploring the entrenched racism of any-town America. Man hurls harsh racial slurs at Cody. Whether his bigotry is, as he claims, an unfunny joke, the product of deep seeded racism, or his hatred for Cody, is left for you to decide.

This is How It Goes is aptly dedicated to Harold Pinter. LaBute shares Pinter’s fascination with unverifiable truth and psychological manipulation. Pinter may be more subtle, whereas LaBute directly confronts our discomfort with prickly truths. The outstanding actors portray successfully LaBute’s biting humor and derisiveness.

Please see This is How It Goes and prepare to be intrigued.

This is How It Goes runs through, July 21. Information and tickets are available on the Aurora Theatre website.

Berkeleyside’s Events Calendar is chock full of music, theater, dance, talks and community happenings. We encourage you to submit your own events.

Emily S. Mendel

Freelancer Emily S. Mendel reviews Berkeley’s vibrant theater scene for Berkeleyside. As a native New Yorker (although now a 37-year East Bay resident), Emily grew up loving and studying theater, from...