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In Black and White

"This Is How It Goes" plays the race card.

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"You shouldn't totally trust me on any of this,” the narrator warns in Firehouse Theatre Project's “This Is How It Goes.” This narrator — listed in the program only as Man and played with nervous energy by Fred Iacovo — proceeds to lead the audience through a minefield of seduction, deceit and uncomfortable racial dynamics.

Man is another morally compromised character from Neil LaBute, the infamous playwright behind controversial works such as “In the Company of Men” and “Fat Pig.” The question to consider here: Is this narrator the guy you want as your guide through such highly charged territory? His self-professed unreliability makes the evening a true roller-coaster ride: There are exciting twists and turns but you may feel a little sick to your stomach at times.

Having returned to his Midwestern hometown after his law career's gone awry, our narrator runs into former high-school crush, Belinda (Laine Satterfield). Belinda is struggling with a troubled marriage to Cody (Tyhm Kennedy), a successful black developer who Man accuses of “playing the race card” at every possible opportunity. Man insinuates himself into Belinda and Cody's lives, leading to many explosive scenes and surprising revelations that cause repeated re-evaluations of what the characters really know or feel.

Director Bill Patton doesn't shy away from any of the unsettling material, placing his actors in close proximity and keeping the tension high so that violence seems a constant possibility. Kennedy delivers an electrifying and edgy performance, making Cody's hair-trigger emotions particularly bracing. He forces the question: Is Cody's naked aggression a ruse or a justifiable reaction to racism? Or both? Satterfield makes the most of a character that sometimes seems like little more than a pawn in an elaborate game.

The role of Man presents a monumental challenge, requiring an actor to portray conflicting personas while maintaining a fourth-wall-breaking conversation with the audience. Iacovo generally handles the character well but his narration is occasionally stilted, making an uncomfortable show more difficult to engage.

The production's technical elements are unremarkable, particularly the boxy, nondescript set, designed by Edwin Slipek Jr. (Style Weekly's senior contributing editor), which seems a throwback to the Firehouse's fringier days. “This Is How It Goes” is not exactly pleasant, but it gets under your skin. Whether you experience it as an energizing tingle or an irritating itch will depend on your temperament. S

“This Is How It Goes” runs through Nov. 21 at the Firehouse Theatre. Tickets are $10-$25 and can be purchased by calling 355-2001 or visiting www.firehousetheatre.org.

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