A meeting between siblings begins with bickering born of long habit, the intimacy of family fueling emotionally laden barbs and establishing the nature of the relationship between Bobby and Betty. Betty has asked Bobby to help her pack up the belongings of a tenant, a second-year senior, so the cabin can be rented. The long and often contentious conversation takes place on a stormy night. A rain-soaked Bobby arrives as Betty, surrounded by boxes and books, .explains what she needs. Confined in mutual purpose for the time being, there is a sense of inevitability to the dialog. Clearly, Bobby doesn’t understand why Betty has asked his help instead of her husband, Bruce. The brother-sister relationship is strained at best.
Popping beers from the six-pack he has brought, Bobby lobs random questions as they work, as though intuitively knowing there is a story here, one that serves Betty’s purposes but is not necessarily accurate. Though now a successful college professor, Betty’s past is littered with selfish choices and a disregard for those she hurts, a girl who couldn’t say no with a shabby reputation and rebellious nature. A carpenter, Bobby hasn’t accomplished much beyond two bitter divorces; his view of the world (and his sister) is tinged with cynicism. However, Bobby is unabashedly honest while both know that Betty is an accomplished liar.
Sorting through books and other items, the student is no longer there yet strangely present, assuming a primary role in the repartee between the siblings. Bobby asks seemingly innocuous questions of his sister, catching the inconsistencies in her answers. Like a dog worrying a bone, Bobby persists, breaking down Betty’s defenses as she gradually admits to a series of lies, the subterfuge of a life filled with secrets and dishonesty: “The things you tell yourself to get by.” This penchant for lying disturbs Bobby most, and he is relentless in demanding the truth from a woman reluctant to take responsibility for her past, let alone her recent actions. Bit by bit, the sordid story comes out. Bobby exults in each concession yet is torn by a younger brother’s need for acceptance by an older sister who never had time for him.
It is a classic familial showdown filled with references to the past, but the circumstances give this difficult conversation the added tension of unavoidable consequences. Betty reluctantly admits her lies to stand helpless before her brother, a lifetime of bravado shed in a moment of desperation. Her sudden burst of honesty does nothing to render Betty more sympathetic, but Bobby’s innate generosity obliterates the animosity between them, at least temporarily, in a moment of agreement. Throughout, Bobby’s emotion is unrestrained, aggressive, demanding, while Betty holds herself above the argument, unwilling to engage, constitutionally unable to break the habits of a lifetime for a moment of painful truth.
The action takes place in a small cabin but might as well have been in the interrogation room of a police station, so deliberate is Bobby’s demand for truth. Without the studied accoutrements of the practiced liar, Bobby’s approach is naturally confrontational, slowly breaking down Betty’s ability to cover one lie with another. She is found guilty, forced to admit her lies, to take ownership of her behavior—all that he has ever wanted in this tortured relationship. From the opening salvo, LaBute captures the import of this reckoning, the raging weather outside mirroring the storm within the cabin, an insistent drum of questions like rain beating on the roof.