What is attraction really? Is it all about aesthetics or is there a deeper meaning underneath the surface? And is there a different rule book for art? Neil LaBute’s the Shape of Things mixes the messages of art and attraction amongst four flirty twenty-somethings.
After a successful run of the Credeaux Canvas in 2020, director Les Solomon presents the Shape of Things as a bit of a companion piece exploring similar themes of art, desire, and deception. Two leads from the first production reappear here with Samson Alston playing another feckless student and Rachel Marley trying her hand at co-directing.
LaBute’s script follows four Americans in their early twenties; one pair at the beginning of their relationship and the other unknowingly approaching the end of theirs. Adam (Samson Alston) is a shy English major who can’t believe his luck when a fiery sculptor named Evelyn (Georgia Brindley) decides to give him the time of day. Over the course of their short relationship, Adam’s friends Phillip (Tayman Jamae) and Jenny (Olivia Hall Smith) can’t help but noticed the sudden changes in Adam’s appearance, interests, and attitude. Evelyn displays all the typical hallmarks of an abuser but none of them picked up on her underlying motivations.
The four cast members perform with a youthful spark that, at times, leans into hammy over-acting but largely gives their characters a naivety familiar in new adults. Smith as Jenny is particularly fresh and believable as someone trying to navigate what she wants and what she thinks she should want out of life. Alston portrays Adam as a painfully soft victim of Evelyn’s abuse but his off-putting relationship with arrogant Phillip rounds out his character as someone so unsure of himself he seems to attract bullies.
Over a few months, Evelyn has induced enormous changes in Adam from introducing a fitness regime that changes his appearance, suggesting changes to his clothing and hairstyle, and more subtle things like eliminating his nail biting habit. Ultimately, she isolates him from his only friends and asserts herself as Adam’s everything. Watching this routine of abuse and manipulation is painful as an accurate portrayal of the experiences of people who have survived family violence. LaBute adds a twist, though. Evelyn wasn’t abusing Adam for mere jest, but as the subject of her Masters’ project, turning Adam into a living sculpture. Maybe this conceit would be interesting if her reasoning wasn’t sociopathic and unconvincing or her methods indefensible.
LaBute’s social drama reaches past the realms of simple pathos and attempts a complex metaphor between the dynamics of art/artist and interpersonal relationships. As an exploration of the unstable and shifting desires of early adulthood, this production works. But it flies too close to the sun and falls apart in the end.
The Shape of Things is running at Flight Path Theatre from January 8th – 31st
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