Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Shape of Things"

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note: entire contents copyright 2002 by Carl A. Rossi


"THE SHAPE OF THINGS"

by Neil LaBute

directed by Paul Melone

Evelyn … Laura Latreille
Adam … Tommy Day Carey
Jenny … Stacy Fischer
Phillip … Walter Belenky

Two years ago, I attended the Coyote Theatre’s production of Neil LaBute’s BASH, three one-acters each dealing with a murder, told from the killer’s point of view and all I felt was cold disgust --- not for the three killers, but for the playwright who created them --- and I had seen the film version of his misogynistic IN THE COMPANY OF MEN, so I came to SpeakEasy’s production of THE SHAPE OF THINGS with a fair idea of what to expect --- and I wasn’t wrong. I was fascinated with SHAPE’s wordplay (the very air was being punched into bas-relief) but I wouldn’t recommend Mr. LaBute’s play unless you’re looking for a grim good time or, to be honest, a mean one.

Adam and Evelyn (!), two college students, “meet cute” in the museum of a conservative midwestern town: Adam works part-time as a guard; Evelyn is a free spirit. To Adam’s alarm (and growing fascination), Evelyn intends to Make a Statement by spray-painting a penis on the marble torso of a male nude (the town fathers have covered up its genitalia in the name of decency). As their relationship deepens, Adam evolves into an Adonis himself: he loses weight, exercises, changes his hair and clothing styles, swaps glasses for contact lenses and undergoes cosmetic surgery. He stops biting his fingernails, starts keeping a journal, engages in on-camera sex and drops the few friends he has --- all for Evelyn. Adam is a man in love, but Evelyn is an Artist; her stunning coup de théâtre is as jaw-dropping as any bloodbath (and, when you think about it, far more damaging).

Mr. LaBute writes good, stinging dialogue, closer to Albee than Mamet, and up until Evelyn’s coup, the audience laughed albeit nervously, but --- surprise, surprise --- I did not. Conflict, of course, is the beating heart of drama --- one opponent, good or evil, must triumph over another --- but when one opponent slowly and systematically pulls the wings off another and we’re supposed to enjoy watching the victim squirm, that is when the playwright and I part company, no matter how well he writes his dialogue (hey, how’s about a Holocaust play where we’re supposed to root for the Nazis?). Blanche DuBois says deliberate cruelty is the most unforgivable sin, and I agree with her --- especially when the tormentor gets away scot-free. At SHAPE’s end, how are we to react towards Evelyn the Bitch Goddess as she makes her final exit? Should men want to slam her against a wall, bloody her, then bone her to an inch of her life? Should women cheer Evelyn on for scoring off their eternal enemy Man? Or, in a variation of the recently-departed BEYOND BELIEF, are we to snigger and nudge over the Downfall of a Sap and then throw up our hands in shock when Mr. LaBute turns on us and bares his teeth? (It would be easy to say the character of Evelyn is an abstraction of Mr. LaBute’s love/hate views towards women, but I know a handful of young women in the real world who are second cousins to her --- and you might, too….)

Some may say I’m missing the point: Mr. LaBute wants us to be appalled, outraged, even sickened over what his characters say and do. But to be a social critic, one must have a social conscience, and I don’t believe Mr. LaBute has one --- or if he does, it has given way to the sensational; the lurid; the sadistic. THE CRUEL. Oh, he has Adam do some feeble counterpointing at play’s end, but he is no match for the ruthless Evelyn, who has her loving playwright to back her up. Lord knows what kind of Muse comes to Mr. LaBute when he writes; whatever it is, I wouldn’t want to fall asleep with my finger in its mouth.

Having said all that, I must add that SpeakEasy has come up with an engaging production in spite of it all, featuring four appealing young actors. I last saw Laura Latreille in SHEL’S SHORTS over at the now-defunct Market Theater (greatly missed) and I read with mixed feelings that it was the last show she had appeared in. I was glad because I haven’t missed her in anything, yet saddened because an entire year has gone by without Boston being treated to an appearance by this engaging actress. Ms. Latreille was in the aforementioned BASH and turned in one of that year’s finest performances as the Woman who kills her son in a macabre homage to Medea. I hope that her beguiling yet witchlike Evelyn doesn’t cause Ms. Latreille to become known as a LaBute actress --- she would be painting herself into a rather steely corner if she did. (When she takes to the podium, Ms. Latreille unwraps a declaiming voice that would make any Portia proud.) I have seen Tommy Day Carey perform several times in the past few years, he’s an agreeable chap (i.e. bland); still, such blandness slots in perfectly with Evelyn’s machinations, making his Adam the perfect stooge. As an engaged couple who get caught up and (emotionally) altered by Evelyn, Walter Belenky gives us Mouth without caricature (even though that’s what his character is), and Stacy Fischer --- the adorable Katya in the Huntington production of A MONTH IN THE COUNTRY --- is a beautiful foil to Ms. Latreille’s Evelyn; a sweet, friendly minnow swimming with a shark.

Director Paul Melone deftly moves his quartet in and out among the BCA pillars, especially during the multiple scene changes --- nicely choreographed, those, and at times revealing little insights into the characters. My only quibble would be the opening scene with the Statue --- I see Adam firmly planting himself between the nude and Evelyn with her ric-tic-tic spray can; here, he wanders about la-de-dah, leaving the target wide open. And if Evelyn is such a free spirit, why does she make love under the sheets still wearing her bra and panties?

Since Mr. LaBute is being acclaimed as a mirror for our times (sad times, if he is), I wonder if a musical version of AMERICAN PSYCHO can be too far down the road, with Mr. LaBute as librettist. Should such a monster ever rears its ugly head, we will truly have become a Clockwork Orange.

LET THE SUNSHINE IN, FOR GOD’S SAKE!

"The Shape of Things" (31 January-22 February 2003)
SPEAKEASY STAGE COMPANY
Boston Center for the Arts
549 Tremont Street, BOSTON, MA
1 (617) 437-7731

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