"The Shape of Things"
Stamford Theatre Works, Stamford
Art or humanism? Do artists place their work before personal relations? Indeed they do, more often than not--as seen in real life as well as theater. One has only to think of Picasso, O’Neill, Strindberg, Pollock, to cite a few examples. Most often, the wife or mistress, nearest of kin, bears the brunt of callous treatment.
And now playwright Neil LaBute gives a dramatic, unexpected twist to the theme, in “The Shape of Things,” newly-opened at Stamford Theatre Works. But this time the focus is on a female artist, not a male, as usually found in the literature.
The story, briefly, deals with graduate students on a college campus: Evelyn, a hip young graduate student, has an unusual plan for her master’s thesis, carried out when she meets Adam, a nerdy guard in an art museum. LaBute has an excellent ear for dialogue between these types, and the story, under Douglas Moser’s incisive direction, is consistently entertaining.
But “The Shape of Things” is a good deal more than fun and games, as the final scene (not to be revealed here) shockingly exposes. It is a piece which leaves one to mull over such primal questions as the nature of art, existence, human relations. And though LaBute tends to rattle on at length, as he wraps up the tale, “The Shape of Things” offers a final jolt.
Director Moser has assembled a fine quartet of players—Pepper Binkley, Ari Butler, Tess Brown, and Will Poston, each one a creating sharply-etched distinctive character. But it is their ensemble work which is most memorable—from the awkward moments when the four first meet socially, to their subsequent meetings and couplings. The verbal exchanges, with cut-off sentences and half-completed thoughts, are highly effective.
David Esler’s set design (which accommodates the many short scenes) is serviceable, but one wonders why two manikins remain on display throughout the play. The opening gallery scene (in which Evelyn prepares to spray paint a statue) uses the manikins effectively, but why do they continue to dominate the play? Is Moser drawing a comparison between humans and robots? In any event, the many scene changes which involve manikin maneuvers are distracting. Nor are they helped by the loud interim music, hip though it may be.
But, on balance, this is a production and play well worth seeing—both substantive and entertaining—thanks to every one involved.
-- -Irene Backalenick
Mar. 15, 2008