The Shape of Things

By Rosalind Friedman

Stamford Theatre Works is presenting a handsome production of Neil LaBute's cynical morality tale,
The Shape of Things,written in 2001; in one and half hours without intermission, the playwright
lambasts the artist as manipulating and mendacious, Godless and immoral; and the human being, in
general, as flawed and easily led. On David Esler's museum setting worthy of MOMA (Museum of
Modern Art), lit effectively by Susan Nicholson, Doug Moser directs an affecting four-member 20
something cast, two males, two females, with a firm, knowledgeable hand. They are costumed
appropriately by Holly Rihn.

Adam meets Evelyn-dig those biblical names? WINKWINK!? -at the white-walled museum, where
colorful modern pictures by Warhol and Rothko, courtesy of Bob Calllahan, vie with two large white
nudes: a man and a woman. Positioning the nudes differently for each aching scene was interesting
but time-consuming.
Ari Butler is charmingly sympathetic as Adam, the museum guard, a naive nerd hiding behind black
owl-like glasses. What I like best about his character are his literary allusions and puns from writer like
Kafka and Dickens that are sprinkled throughout the play.

When he meets Evelyn, an art student working on her thesis, he is intrigued by her sexiness and
boldness. Pepper Binkley gives a very strong performance as this rebel, who wants to and finally does
spray paint the leaves that cover the private parts of the nude male statue on view at the museum. She
claims it is fake art. Adam, who has had little to no relationships with woman, is immediately seduced
by Evelyn. She influences his every move, and in short order, he is losing weight, changing his hair
style and clothes, and exchanging glasses for contact lenses. All these seem like improvements that
someone who cares about you might make. However, when Evelyn convinces and coerces Adam to
get plastic surgery, you want to shake him and say, "Get a hold of yourself!"

The visit to Adam's best friends, who are getting married, Phillip and Jenny, nicely played by Tess
Brown and Will Poston, is an early hint that things will not go well. Evelyn begins fighting with Phillip,
and calls him all kinds of terrible names. He is just as pugnacious, almost guessing she is the one
who defaced the statue. Ari and Jenny can't handle conflict and the evening ends quickly. Other hints
that Ari and Evelyn's coupling is not normal: she insists on a camera in the bedroom; although he tells
her that he loves her, she refuses to do the same. He never seems to know what her thesis is all
about, and even has a loving fling with Jenny.

The presentation of Evelyn's thesis project to a large college audience is meant to shock and it does.
I've seen the play before and I was repelled all over again. Unbeknownst to him, Evelyn in a long
monologue-and kudos to Pepper Binkley-explains she has used the transformation of Adam as her
subject matter, her base material. There's a huge portrait of him before and after; tapes of their sexual
liaisons playing on a television, and pieces of their lives together-- even the engagement ring he has
just offered her-is on display. This is all in the guise of her artistry. Evelyn does not see anything wrong
with what she has done. Ari is hurt, devastated by her cruel behavior, for exposing him in this way, but
he never quite makes the case. It is has been said that an artist lives for the work. Neil LaBute's play,
The Shape of Things, which will play through March 30, certainly bears that out.

This review originally aired on WMNR Fine Arts radio

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