CONNECTICUT CRITICS CIRCLE
The Shape of Things
If you ask me…
- Tom Holehan
STAMFORD THEATRE WORKS
IN GOOD "SHAPE"
The chilly works of playwright and filmmaker
Neil LaBute can be pure audience-dividers. One
must, then, admire any theatre company willing
to risk producing the contemporary playwright's
often misanthropic black comedies when a
Neil Simon revival would guarantee bigger box office. Stamford Theatre Works is currently
presenting LaBute's 2001 play, "The Shape of Things", in a solid production under the astute
direction of Douglas Moser. While the play is far from feel-good, when done well it can be a
potent evening of theatre.
Set in a liberal arts college in a conservative Midwestern town, "The Shape of Things" seems
deceptively simple as it chronicles the growing attraction between college students Adam
and Evelyn (the names are not mistakes). The couple meets cute when art major Evelyn
threatens to spray paint a piece of sculpture tended to by Adam as part of his security guard
role at an art gallery. "You stepped over the line, miss", he says upon their first meeting.
They are words that may come back to haunt him.
It isn't long before Evelyn is offering friendly grooming and health advice to the nerdy Adam
who blossoms under her tutelage to near-hunk perfection. Adam has a pair of friends, Jenny -
who he had a crush on but never had the nerve to pursue - and his roommate, Phillip, an
aggressive jock who saw an opening, began dating Jenny and eventually asked her to marry
him. Adam is soon torn between the will of Evelyn and the wishes of his friends and LaBute -
as he did in his controversial films "Your Friends and Neighbors" and "In the Company of
Men" - relishes the opportunity to stir the pot as friends become rivals, secrets are revealed
and questions of truth and art are debated. To reveal more would spoil the wicked surprises
LaBute has in store but be warned: he doesn't make it an easy experience and, in Evelyn, he
has created a character truly hard to love. Or ignore.
The cast in Stamford hits all the right notes especially Pepper Binkley who makes us
understand why an underachiever like Adam would quickly fall under her spell. Ari Butler may
initially over-play Adam's gawky nerd as though trying to distract us from his undeniable good
looks (even behind geeky glasses and bulky clothes). But his slow realization to what is
happening to him and the life around him is ultimately moving and sympathetic. A scene at a
playground where he and lost-love Jenny (a vulnerable and winning Tess Brown) share
information that surprises both of them, is beautifully realized by the actors. In the somewhat
one-dimensional role of Phillip, Will Poston is nonetheless funny and indignant as he
attempts to understand what is happening to his friend and fiancée.
David Esler offers a sleek scenic design that utilizes the intimate space at STW to admirable
effect. With a few well chosen and adaptable set pieces, numerous areas throughout the
college town are well defined. I especially admired the inclusion of a pair of human sculptures
(Adam and Eve?) that are cleverly incorporated into every scene making wry visual
commentary on the proceedings. The lighting by Susan Nicholson is also spot on and
effective. Although LaBute tends to overwrite some scenes (there is no intermission and the
play runs close to two hours), Mr. Moser deserves praise for smoothly pacing the play
making each scene sizzle with tension. "The Shape of Things" is as contemporary as
tomorrow's reality TV show and well worth seeing.
"The Shape of Things" continues at Stamford Theatre Works through March 30th. For further
information call the theatre box office at 203.359.4414 or visit www.stamfordtheatreworks.org.
Tom Holehan is co-founder of the Connecticut Critics Circle and Artistic Director of Stratford's
Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: email@example.com. His
reviews are also archived on www.ctcritics.org.
L-R, Will Poston, Pepper Binkley, Ari Butler
and Tess Brown