Sophomore Chris Kochevar’s production of Neil LaBute’s “The Shape of Things” is delightfully minimalist. Indeed, this show is a far cry from the 2003 feature film based on the play.
Thankfully, Kochevar’s production does not borrow much from the film version. A Pierson Sudler grant replaces a million dollar movie budget, and the show is spared the film’s full-scale college campus background. Designer Haley Fox ’07 makes use of a few effective stage props and sets to turn the Off-Broadway Theatre into, alternately: Starbucks, a college dorm and an art museum.
At their gutsiest, these artistic decisions pay off and give the already strong script character and pizzazz. The result is a commendable imagining of the quirky story with a noticeable patina of the angst of Evelyn (Jocelyn Ranne ’07), the play’s feisty catalyst.
Take, for example, the moment art-anarchist and general troublemaker Evelyn snips off a bunch of plastic grapes from a statue of a male nude she sees in a museum. She says she objects to the inauthenticity of synthetic fruit being used like this — as fig leaves are used in G-rated sketches of Adam and Eve.
With one chop of her Fiskars and an audible gasp of terror from the audience, this hapless Adam is reduced to a state that would utterly embarrass post-fall Eve. One catch, though: since the Sudler precluded the renting of Michelangelo’s “David,” the grape-less statue is not a statue, but a human (Andrew Smeall ’05, a scene columnist) in the altogether. Kudos to Gene Smilansky ’05 and Kate Franklin ’05, who possessed the mental wherewithal to make their unclothed cameos in similar roles.
But behind such gimmicks is a compelling story. Adam (Steve Abramowitz ’05, a former scene editor for the News), the guard who is on watch at the art museum while Evelyn performs her scissor shenanigans, becomes taken with her. Though her personality swings rapidly from edgy charm to Queen of Siberia iciness, the shy, insecure Adam begins not just to take her out on dates but also to heed her insistences that he change himself.
She starts small, ordering him to dress better and lift weights, and eventually works up to larger demands — getting a rhinoplasty, dumping his best friend, etc. Amazingly, Adam complies fully, in the meantime becoming a stronger, dressier, less Jewish-looking example of The Whipped Boyfriend.
As Adam’s relationship with his best friend Phillip (John Peretti ’07) and Phillip’s fiancee Jenny (Lacey Gattis ’07) becomes more strained, Adam begins to question Evelyn’s motives, and the four characters begin barreling headlong towards their dismal ends.
The music and lighting decisions follow the same minimalism ethos displayed in the costuming decisions regarding the human “statues.” Though music is only employed during scene changes, each song efficiently sets the mood of the next scene or emphasizes the moods of the last scene. Similarly, limited film clips are played on two screens. These clips, which include long shots of city streets and clips of a well-populated green on a college campus, adeptly establish setting. The televisions are also used for more traditional purposes, as when Evelyn plays back the lurid home videos of her and Adam’s bedroom activities.
The actors create a successful balance between the flashiness of LaBute’s polished script and the simplicity of the production. The cast appear at ease in their roles — from eager-to-please Adam to immature Phillip. Both actresses do a splendid job. Gattis is a ditzy, loveable Cosmo-reading girlfriend, while Ranne, whose performance carries the play, is heartless and utterly maddening.
In one of the play’s last scenes, Evelyn rails against the public’s mindless obsession with “the shape of things.” Luckily, this production practices no such worship of surface and aestheticism; Kochevar’s “Shape” is beautiful for embracing the grittiness of its own tragic story.