Monday, March 8, 2010
Theater review: The Shape of Things
A line like, “You are dangerously close to owning me,” is more than just a one-liner. And in this play, everything is.
DALLAS This weekend was a first for a few things: It was the very first performance in the Wyly's teeny sixth-floor space, called Studio Theatre. And naturally, it was my first time up there. It was also the first time I'd been really rocked by a stage performance in Dallas. If more shows like this one continue to make their way to the Dallas Arts District, we're poised to truly be a competitive arts city.
The Shape of Things is a contemporary play written by Neil LaBute in 2001. It was made into a movie starring Paul Rudd and Rachel Weisz in 2003, which is the first encounter I'd had with the story. The script itself is madly entertaining and mind-numbing. And the movie doesn't even stand up to seeing a performance of The Shape of Things on-stage, presented by Dallas Theater Center and directed by Matthew Gray.
The story is a simple tale of love that spits out anything but a simple ending. Adam (Steven Walters), a geeky rule-follower with a good heart, falls for a sassy, confident art student named Evelyn (Abbey Siegworth). Adam's friends, Philip (Lee Trull) and Jenny (Aleisha Force), watch Adam and Evelyn's relationship blossom as Adam becomes ever more attractive, fit, and interesting. They begin to question Evelyn's motives as she seemingly molds Adam into a “better” person, and he falls for her, hard.
The play insinuates that more attractive people are in fact more interesting and “better.” It's one of many raw details that leave us thinking long after the play is over.
We watch Adam and Evelyn fall into a dangerous relationship where he goes to all lengths to please her, even getting a nose job after she coyly suggests that his honker is too bulbous. The two deliver stinging commentary. Lines that Adam says, like, “You are dangerously close to owning me,” are more than just one-liners. And in this play, everything is.
The character of Adam was perfectly acted as he transforms from shy museum security guard into a confident boyfriend. Costume designer Ric Dreumont Leal got him just right: We first meet Adam wearing a button-down under a navy cardigan, unappealing khakis, the most perfect museum security guard black shoes, a plastic name tag, and a ratty old coat. The Adam we're left with at the end of the show is slimmer and more fashionable, wearing a snazzy blazer, what look to be expensive pants, and pointy shoes.
A favorite piece of Walters' acting is his honesty. Everything about Adam was genuine, starting with the shy-around-girls attitude and ending with sincere love for the woman who so changed his world.
The two supporting actors, who played Jenny and Philip, did it well. Force, as Jenny, was straight-laced and red-faced – an excellent complement to Evelyn's seductress. Philip played Jenny's sleazy fiance who was one step away from being a bad boy but somehow a smidge too nice to take the plunge. While Jenny's character was a little overdone – in a way I appreciated – Philip had that everyman quality to him. Everyone knows a Philip, and no one wants to marry him.
I won't spoil the end of the play if you haven't had the privilege to see all of it. Suffice it to say, I knew what was going to happen and my heart still prickled through the painful parts. It appeared that audience members were just as convinced of Evelyn's sexy, sly demeanor as Adam himself.
By the famous last scene – Evelyn's long monologue – I felt alone in the theater. The whole premise of the story is wrapped into one crazy package and forced upon each awestruck spectator. The cast of The Shape of Things has created theater that makes you love and hate, without anyone watching.
The scenes were married together with brief scene changes in which still photos would flash up on two white hanging sheets to the tune of a thumping bass. The photographs were disjointed enough to make us swim in the reality that Evelyn had created. By the end of it, the photographs felt as though they were clear representations of what was to come in the next scene – proof that we had succumb to her alternate universe.
The Shape of Things is one of three plays called The Beauty Plays that will be performed by Dallas Theater Center. Fat Pig and reasons to be pretty open March 19 and April 9 respectively.
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