In good shape

The Shape of Things

By Neil LaBute
Directed by John Pinckard
Rising Sun Performance Company
Greenwich Street Theatre
Non-union production (closed)
Review by Jade Esteban Estrada

The Rising Sun Performance Company's production of The Shape of Things recently played the Greenwich Street Theatre in Lower Manhattan as part of their 2004 Winter Repertory Season. Neil LaBute's entertaining script is a dark story of a modern-day Pygmalion and asks the question, "How far would you go to change for someone you love?" Having already been made into an impressive film and produced in several live venues in the U.S., The Shape of Things makes one thing clear. it is a profound and complex piece of recent theatre.

Evelyn (played by Kitty Lindsay) is an art student at a small Midwestern college. One day while preparing to deface a statue in the museum by spray painting a penis that was covered up by an over-puritanical art committee years before, she meets Adam (played beautifully by Tate Ellington), who works as a museum security guard. He eventually gets the nerve to ask her out on a date (although doesn't get her to reconsider the graffiti plan). She brazenly accepts. The opening scene sets the tone for the entire play, with Adam attempting more and more to match the daring spirit of Evelyn -- in doing which he changes his disposition and appearance.

Adam's best friend, Phillip (Peter O'Connor), is amused that his buddy has found a girl who actually likes him. He also finds it funny that he's bought a new jacket, changed his hairstyle, and lost a few pounds. But very early on, the audience is let in on the friction between this new girl Evelyn and Phillip that eventually forces Adam to choose between his friend and the girl he's in love with. To make matters even more complicated, Phillip is engaged to Jenny (Courtney Herbert), a girl Adam was in love with but never had the nerve to ask out on a date. As Adam gets more comfortable with himself, one day he and Jenny have a bit of an affair. Thus begins an uncomfortable secret for both Adam and Jenny.

At the end of the play, it is revealed that the intent of Evelyn's school project was to prove how a man of no immediate self-esteem could positively change a few things about his exterior and shortly thereafter forsake his friends, cheat on his girlfriend, and lie without conscience. She reveals that her relationship with Adam was all in the name of a good grade. And she doesn't feel bad about it!

Lindsay (who is also an accomplished and recognized dancer in New York) was flawless in her role as the villain. Of course, unless one is in on the story, it was not apparent that she is one until the end of the play. She possessed an ease of stage communication reminiscent of the screen actresses of the 1930s, with a contemporary swiftness of style that made most of her quarreling dialog particularly satisfying to watch. The bitchy (yet justified) lines she got to say in LaBute's play were "TV-sitcom" compelling. It's impossible not to see further significant stage roles in Lindsay's future.

Ellington was charming in the chameleon role. He conjured up the nervous image of a puppy at the top of the show and then slowly stripped off layers of padded clothing and bad hairstyles to reveal the swan for the show's finale. The role of Adam requires a skilled actor. Ellington excelled.

O'Connor played the perfect egotistical best friend. Competitive and full of testosterone (the bad kind), he and Lindsay had the most obvious chemistry in a scene when the four characters are discussing art and he and Lindsay disagree. It was nearly as engaging as watching the winter Olympics.

Herbert's scene with Ellington before the forbidden kiss that would follow and haunt them both was also a highlight in the show.

John Pinckard directed the piece in a minimalist style. With nearly every scene taking place in a different location, using only the bare essentials kept the focus on the actors. Also of note, Pinckard directed the actors to join the actual audience for Lindsay's presentation. This seemed to catch the viewers off guard.

Lighting in the production was uninspired in the space with use of only the most basic of plots. However, this did add to the stark realism of the play.

Increasingly impatient audiences in the Big Apple need more old stories of human relationships told in new ways. The Shape of Things makes the grade as a classic piece of modern theatre.

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Set: N/A
Costumes: 2
Lighting: 1/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2005 Jade Esteban Estrada