The Shape of Things examines how far a person will go to please his lover.
Thursday, April 22, 2004
How far can, or should, a lover with a conscience go to encourage their sweetheart to change? Regardless of motives, if the change results in better health and a boost in self-confidence, is this a good or bad thing? Can anyone really be forced to change by someone else?
These are some of the questions the audience is supposed to consider in Neil LaBute’s play The Shape of Things, closing this weekend at the SRO/Studio Theater at Monterey Peninsula College.
Questions come more easily when a message is delivered subtly rather than through bludgeoning, and introspection is easier when a play is based on believable characters that have some depth versus those written as vice-laden stereotypes. LaBute has a reputation for constructing characters that are dumb, docile dupes or psychotic, conniving, heartless manipulators. This play is no exception. There are no likeable characters and no innocent victims in this piece, and the callous twist at the conclusion—while somewhat predictable—is unsettling.
The Shape of Things is about two college-aged couples, with Justin Gordon as Phillip, the conventional, beer-drinking friend of a more sensitive, dorky undergrad, Adam (Alec Head), who falls for a spirited graduate art student, Evelyn (Jennifer Muniz).
“What’d she do,” Gordon’s character asks after Evelyn irritates him, “give you a haircut and a blow job and now you’re her puppy?” The answer to that question is a resounding “yes.” Evelyn has made Adam her pet project, and the story becomes a perverse version of Pygmalion ’s theme of transformation, of shaping an object of desire into something ideal.
LaBute has written his play with a shrewd, if overly vulgar ear for American talk, but a dull sense of when he’s made his point. Still, the four actors do admirable work under Alicia Wharton’s direction. Gordon has great stage presence and magnetism showing the unpleasant side of small-town mentality, instinctively unhappy about his friend’s transformation; Muniz is erotically calculating and captivating as Evelyn; Taylour Matz shows promise and is sweet and compliant as Jenny, Phillip’s fiancée; and Head is convincing in portraying his character’s transition out of insecurity, as Adam becomes an obsessively smitten, metrosexual “hottie” in contact lenses and Tommy Hilfiger jacket before passing on to his ultimate indignity. There are a few instances of overstepping lines, and timing needs to be tightened up in spots, but overall the ensemble manages to pull off this controversial play.
The set design by William Strom is sparse but effective, with frequent scene changes variously suggesting a museum, a restaurant, a bedroom, and other locations with style and economy. The scene changes, intermission and pre-performance are accompanied by too loud, but otherwise appropriately edgy and lyrically perfect, New Wave/Pop music.
The Shape of Things closes Sunday at MPC’s SRO/Studio Theater. 646-4213.