The Shape Of Things
“The Shape of Things” by Neil LaBute is the first play staged by RoundSquare Productions, and it is a fantastic effort. Directed by Peter Blackburn and produced by Josh Blau, with art design by Illana Payes, lighting by Aaron Bell and set by Chris Purtle, it is an intense and disturbing play full of passionate interpersonal relations, anguished debate and character transformation. “The Shape of Things” has the strong and highly professional actors which its text demands. A beautifully designed production in an unusual setting, the play grips you from its first moments of cheeky flirtation to the shocking finale.
The first character we meet is Adam (played by Josh Blau), a college student working at a museum. Adam is a classic geek. He is a drawback, a nice guy who has no luck with the girls. We find that there was a possible girlfriend, Jenny, but Adam lost her to his roommate Phillip due to being too cowardly to ask her out. Evelyn, an art student from his college, arrives in his life in a very dramatic manner.
Emily Wheaton, cleverly cast in the role of Evelyn, is considerably shorter than Blau and looks very cute. Evelyn gives the impression of a girl who is annoying but beguiling. An aspiring sculptor who identifies way too closely with her chosen vocation, she challenges him from the beginning. She provocatively steps over a museum barrier and announces she is going to deface a statue. Adam gets into a hopeless argument, unable to stand up to her. Instead of controlling a potential vandal he asks her out.
Evelyn complains a nude representation of God is not true art because the genitals have been censored. She spray paints her phone number on his jacket and advises him to knock off work early, which he does, leaving her to vandalize the statue. From the moment she spray-paints genitals onto the statue’s leaves Adam is in for it.
In no time the two are in a relationship. She is transforming him. But you can tell that something is not quite right. Evelyn is very blasé about the relationship. This is not evident to Adam, who is infatuated. Within no time he is losing heaps of weight, wearing his hair differently, and doing more alarming things. Suddenly the unattractive geek becomes a handsome man in an all-over metamorphosis. The whole thing is sinister and disturbing. The ductile Adam, not blessed with high intelligence, is blandly following the directions of the girl who is dominating him. She has taken over his mind. She is treating him like one of the lumps of clay in her sculpture class.
Adam, however, is a person who has feelings. We can see that it would be good if he had a girlfriend who is kindly. But he lost that chance with Jenny. Jenny, played by Stephanie Lillis, is the antithesis of Evelyn. Jenny is now engaged to his boisterous friend Phillip, played by Nicholas Brien. Phillip clashes with Evelyn and is as forceful as she is.
We can evidently see what the ideal situation should be. Adam and Jenny are suitable for each other. But they, of course, refuse to see that. The malleable Adam is fatally attracted to the manipulative Evelyn, while the timid, ladylike Jenny is attracted to the loud Phillip, who has qualities she does not have. They are attracted to their polar opposites. If only, if only, the more simple, caring people could see what was good for them. But a timid man with no self-esteem is drawn to a controlling woman. Jenny, a girl filling a stereotypical model of demure womanhood, who has probably denied herself the chance to evolve individually, is attracted to a man who does not fulfill her needs.
It’s a tragedy that plays out in life again and again. This play examines how people are drawn not to those who would be most likely to make them happy from a logical point of view, but instead to those who invoke in them the strongest feeling. Both Adam and Jenny feel heady attraction for their lovers which disrupts and unsettles them. Their own friendship is much easier. But they cannot help being drawn by disturbing and overpowering attachments.
Debates erupt between the four “friends”- although the only actual friendship in the mix, in my opinion, is that between Adam and Jenny. As Jenny admits her discontent with Phillip, the connection between Adam and Evelyn gets weirder and weirder. Evelyn emerges as an even more powerful force than she at first seemed. But when her dominating behaviour reaches a peak, Evelyn is left with nothing. The self-driven woman has become pallid, drained and depleted of energy. It seems she has satisfied a monstrous urge and gained absolutely nothing from it.
The set design is unique and highly appropriate to No Vacancy Gallery. The scenery is black and white, very wise considering this is an alarmingly powerful text which does not need strong visuals to distract from it. The scenes are represented by tiny dioramas on a pillar on the stage’s left, which change each time the set changes- an illustration of a kissing couple when Adam and Evelyn go to bed, toy trees for a park setting, and so forth. Some of these diorama settings are conceptual and highly metaphorical, and contain tiny sculptures. They kept the visual interest going while not taking attention away from the acting, and were a delight to look at.
The direction is very sharp, and the actors never tire during a very exhausting and demanding show. Despite the heat they kept up their strong portrayals, with the self-effacing characters of Adam and Jenny just as noticeable as the more blatant Evelyn and Phillip because of the way Blau and Lillis portray them in their stronger moments.
This is a vivid show, with shocking revelations and fiery confrontations. The team did a wonderful job of making the play enjoyable despite the misfortune of the hot autumn and the not ideal space, working the art gallery theme into the theatrical design and keeping us comfortable with air conditioning and good hospitality. A good night out for those who want to be challenged by stimulating and eye-opening drama.