CONNECTICUT CRITICS CIRCLE
The Shape of Things

'Shape of Things' Reveals the Evil Behind a Smile
By Geary Danihy

There is a moment in Neil LaBute's The Shape of Things, which is currently running at
Stamford Theatre Works, when Adam, an English Lit undergraduate student, corrects his
ex-roommate, Phillip, by pointing out that "Frankenstein" is not the name of the monster
but rather the name of his creator. At the time, this brief bit of dialogue seems to serve
no greater purpose than to help flesh out Adam's character and suggest why the two
students no longer room together, but as the play unfolds, Peter's confusion goes to the
heart of this disturbing, somewhat windy drama that posits the question of just how far
an artist can go in his or her quest to create something?

The artist in question is Evelyn (Pepper Binkley), whose name, when foreshortened, and
paired with that of Adam, her erstwhile boyfriend, suggests another theme that LaBute
plays with - innocence corrupted by a female who at first questions and then breaks the
"rules," a theme supported by the two large statues of a naked man and woman, genitals
covered by fig leaves, that are moved about the stage between scenes.

Binkley plays the grad student seeking her MFA with a high degree of archness that at
times becomes a bit grating, and her oft-repeated movement - foot canted on heel and
slowly shaken left and right - telegraphs her delivery of many of her character's
somewhat enigmatic pronouncements on life, love and art. This aside, Binkley is
certainly successful in creating a character so consumed by self and so secure in her
belief that the pursuit of "art" places her above the common rules of decency that by the
end of the play she becomes the essence of evil made more horrible by the fact that she
is oblivious to the harm she has done.

This final scene, in which she presents her "project," though somewhat long, is chilling,
for it suggests a mentality that views human beings as nothing more than fodder or grist
for whatever mill is being worked. It is a mentality, as Adam (Ari Butler) points out, that
can easily condone the use of a baby's skin to create a lampshade.

One of the play's problems, at least from a cathartic point of view, is that there is no
compelling response to Evelyn's presentation of her take on life, art and human
relationships, and no retribution for her actions. Adam indignantly confronts her after her
presentation of her "project," but he is like a child yelling at a stone because it has hurt
him. Perhaps that is LaBute's point - that people like Evelyn cannot be moved, cannot be
shamed, cannot be made to see the error of their ways - but it leaves a somewhat soiled
taste in the mouth, especially since the final scene has Adam replaying a videotaped
moment when, Evelyn claims, she actually whispered something to him, post-tryst, that
was "true."

Butler handles his character's transformation from nerd to "neat" at Evelyn's hands, a
transformation that takes up most of the play, with a marked degree of assurance.
Although one wonders just how obtuse a person must be to not see that he is being
manipulated, Butler gives Adam a soulful need to be liked, if not loved, that suggests
how blind we all can be when presented with the possibility that what we thought was
unattainable might well be within our grasp, that we just might be something more than
we are.

Although Adam is Evelyn's main target, her assault on his personality, his very
essence, creates collateral damage, especially in the relationship between Phillip (Will
Poston) and his fiancé, Jenny (Tess Brown). Theirs is not a match made in heaven --
Jenny smiles bravely as Phillip describes their pending wedding, which will be celebrated
under water with the bride, groom and guests wearing SCUBA gear - and the match soon
falls apart as Evelyn turns Adam against the couple through sexual manipulation and
preys on Jenny's lack of self-assurance.

Here again, there is no sufficient or satisfying redress of Evelyn's actions. Jenny, played
with a great deal of fragility and wistfulness by Brown, confronts Evelyn over coffee but
simply cannot find the strength - or the words - to defeat her persecutor. She departs the
field more shattered than when she arrived, leaving Evelyn triumphant.

The Shape of Things, as written, doesn't exactly rush headlong to its conclusion, but
director Douglas Moser has done an effective job of pacing the somewhat protracted
scenes to minimize the audience's fidget-factor. Of special note is a "swing" scene
between Adam and Jenny that, under Moser's direction, nicely evokes the two
characters' basic innocence, an innocence that Evelyn preys upon.

Though flawed, The Shape of Things packs enough punch and asks questions of
sufficient weight that it more than holds the audience's interest and most likely has
engendered lively post-curtain discussions amongst those who have repaired to local
bistros to talk about what they have just seen.

The Shape of Things runs through Sunday, March 30. For more information or for tickets
call 359-4414 or go to www.stamfordtheatreworks.org.


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