Play: The Shape of Things
Group: St. Louis Actors’ Studio
Venue: Gaslight Theater, 358 North Boyle
Dates: February 25, 26, 27, 28, March 4, 5, 6, 7
Tickets: From $18 to $25; contact 1-800-982-2787 or www.ticketmaster.com
Story: Adam is getting by in his life. He officially is enrolled as a student at a college in a small town, where he shares an apartment with his friend and fellow student Phillip. He also works as a security guard at the local art museum, where he meets Evelyn, a graduate student in art who is threatening to deface a sculpture on display. Adam less than strenuously objects to what Evelyn is about to do, and ends up asking for her phone number before she spray paints the sculpture.
Slowly but surely the amiable but predictable Adam falls under the sway of Evelyn, to the surprise and eventual concern of Phillip and his fiancé, Jenny, who once had a crush on Adam before Phillip entered the picture. Adam metamorphoses before their eyes, losing weight, changing his hairstyle and appearance and improving his wardrobe, all under the steady encouragement and guidance of Evelyn, who seemingly has taken control of his life. But, he’s found true love, right, so the changes must be good, even as Evelyn seems increasingly difficult with Adam and downright rude to his friends. When she asks him to abandon Phillip and Jenny for her love, what will Adam do?
Highlights: Playwright Neil LaBute has made a lucrative career writing about nasty human beings and their impact upon society. A controversial artist who is often accused of misogyny because of the cruel nature of his protagonists, LaBute’s style is epitomized in this brilliant if deeply disturbing 2001 drama that he later made into a movie. The revealingly titled two-act work, which fits in beautifully with St. Louis Actors’ Studio’s third season theme of ‘love and honor,’ is given a stunning, visceral interpretation in director Alec Wild’s taut production.
Other Info: Wild elicits superb performances from his quartet of players, led by Shanara Gabrielle, who expertly captures the creepy, self-indulgent, socially aberrant behavior of Evelyn with the smart combination of sexy enchantment and the cold, indifferent precision of a Nazi scientist. It’s an unsettling portrayal not easily dispatched.
Billy Kelly is a bit too strident at first, but eventually deftly shapes a solid performance as the innately decent but easily swayed Adam. Ann Ashby offers a delightful turn as Jenny, a kindly lass who is more enamored with the concept of love than with her actual upcoming wedding, and Christian Vieira nicely contrasts Phillip’s bonhomie with his explosive bursts of temper.
Scott Neale’s set design is appropriately sterile, dominated by imposing blank white walls with a single painting that anchors the background, while the players move a few key pieces of furniture off and on the set for various scenes. Kaitlyn Breen’s lighting is suitably harsh to underscore the savage plot, and Garth Dunbar’s costume design fully implements the changes described in Adam’s transformation as well as the student attire of the characters.
The Shape of Things is fascinating, disquieting, ugly and transfixing all at once, with the sort of plot twists that provide an entirely different perspective for someone who has seen the work previously. Guaranteed to make you both think and squirm, it’s an excellent evening of theater.
Rating: A 4.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.