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Two guys get creepy in The Bang and the Clatter’s unsettling This Is How It Goes 

Considering the perilous financial state of some local theaters, it is surprising when a new theater opens up. Happily, The Bang and the Clatter Theatre Company, which has been producing a string of thoroughly involving productions in Akron for the past couple of years, has now launched a companion theater in downtown Cleveland.

The first play at this new venue, This Is How It Goes by Neil LaBute, is a perfect choice. It embodies many of the strengths and a couple of the weaknesses of this company, which is committed to producing plays never before seen in Ohio. Thanks to three winning performances and adept direction from Fred Sternfeld, this inaugural effort is well worth seeing.

LaBute is fond of confronting uncomfortable truths, and he does so again in this piece, which is structured around a romantic triangle involving an interracial married couple and a male friend, referenced pretentiously as "Man." All three attended high school together 10 years earlier, and the play seeks to use their interrelations to address race, prejudice, and the scummy underside of the male psyche (a favorite LaBute topic).

This production wrings plenty of tension from the conversations among these three, as Belinda (a smart and compelling Leighann Niles DeLorenzo) confesses her shallow reasons for marrying and bearing children by African American athlete-turned-businessman Cody: "I got a thrill walking through Wal-Mart with my two brown children in tow." But Cody, portrayed by Michael May in a well-modulated performance, has become distant and perhaps abusive.

Uncertainty arises from the playwright's device of establishing the Man as an admittedly undependable narrator and (could it be?) a closet racist. This "maybe-maybe not" conceit becomes tiresome — even in the capable hands of Doug Kusak, who gives Man a friendly, accessible demeanor.

It all leads up to a slimy scheme, cooked up by the guys, that feels artificial and out of character. But there are enough sparks lit along the way to maintain interest, if not total credibility.

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