Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Shape of Things"

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note: entire contents copyright 2002 by Larry Stark

"The Shape of Things"

by Neil LaBute
Directed by Paul Melone

Set Design by Paul Theriault
Lighting Design by C. Scott Ananian
Costume Design by Gail Buckley
Sound Design & Original Music by Rick Brenner
Production Stage Manager Amy Lee

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

Neil LaBute is a writer at home making stories, movie-scripts, and plays, and more people will probably see the film already made of "The Shape of Things" than will ever spend the two hours without intermission it takes to experience the show live on a stage. I wish the reverse were true, since LaBute tackles big words and big ideas, and in the hands of live actors his believably fluid dialogue deals with those ideas in startlingly human terms. It's a cliche of course, but if you can see only one play this season it should probably be the continually engrossing SpeakEasy Stage production of "The Shape of Things" now at the BCA. At the very least, you can then one-up all your friends by taking them to the film and telling them about the differences.

Director Paul Melone has handled the cinematic scene-changes in the play expressionistically. The actors are their own stage-hands, but in the dim lighting between scenes their movements are slow, stylized, and mechanical --- reminiscent of robots. Designer Paul Theriault has reproduced a swirling, colorful abstraction as a floor, and used lighted panels that suggest columns in one pair, trees in another to suggest a small-town college art museum, a restaurant, a park, and a pair of grad-school living-rooms. Gail Buckley's costumes are largely off-the-rack student standards, but the one character who forcefully describes herself as An Artist wears a pseudo-Pollock miniskirt to emphasize that fact.

The play is about the fuzzy, shifting barrier that sets Art at a distance from Reality, and what the word "truth" means in each. It begins with a committed artist determined to re-deface a statue that had a bunch of grapes added to conceal the sculptor's view of a god's genitalia. It ends with a discussion of whether an artist has a right to use a person's life, or even flesh, as "basic material" for the re-shaping as sculpture. To say any more would ruin the experience of an exciting, often hilarious, engrossing work of serious art.

The cast play two 22-year-old couples, one newly plunged into the Big Word love, the other about to marry --- under water. Laura Latreille is the very dogmatically militant Artist, an enigmatically manipulative woman making gigantic waves in the lives of three old friends. Tommy Day Carey is her marked down prey --- a part-time museum guard and professional nebbish who changes and grows under her influence. Walter Belenky is a friend and roomie whose male-chauvinist-pigness is at least earthily honest. As his fiancee Stacy Fischer tries to hold the two male-bonded old friends together, even though one of them is apparently changing.

For most of the two hours, this collision of a new girl with long-standing friends, and the re-arrangement of their past compromises, could be the banal stuff of an old B-movie "Women's Picture" --- but LaBute is a devastatingly imaginative artist whose every tiny detail of breezy reality ends up later revealed in a surprisingly original new light. It's the nature of that revelation that audiences will discuss all the way home.

I will say no more, except about Rick Brenner's original music and sound design, which as scene-change follows scene-change sounds more and more like the momentous grinding force of glaciers leading, perhaps, to the titanic, shattering fall of icebergs into the sea. The sound/music is never intrusive or obvious, but eloquently indicative of the power of LaBute's play.

Catch it before the movie makes everyone Think they know what this play is all about.


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

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