Adam and Eve(lyn): The Shape of Things | Gaslight Theatre

If you’re interested in exploring the convergence of innocence and experience through the prism of Neil LaBute’s skewed perspective, then The Shape of Things may well be something you should see. 

To the extent that The Shape of Things can be done well, Actor’s Studio succeeds in mounting an effective production. But before I go on, it’s necessary to say that the first time I saw this play, I thought it was very good. This time, the “surprise” ending is considerably less surprising if one is watching for the “tells” that a skilled audience member can use to predict outcomes.

Neil LaBute puts the cruel shoes on female feet this time, an unusual angle for him. Museum guard Adam (Billy Kelly) meets Evelyn (Shanara Gabrielle), an obvious nominal word play, when she has crossed a velvet rope intending to deface a statue of a god by spray painting a penis on it. She is a passionate graduate student, nearly at the end of her M.F.A. in search of a thesis project. Adam is an attractive enough schlub in search of a girlfriend. Before their first encounter is over, both may be headed toward achieving their goals.

To Evelyn, everything exists as art or potential art. Nothing else matters because there is nothing else. She is nihilistic, narcissistic and, in Adam’s eyes, totally hot and way out of his league. But to his amazement, she likes him. They jump into a relationship which is emotionally and physically mind-blowing for Adam. He’s anxious to introduce her to his friends Phillip (Christian Vieira) and Jenny (Ann Ashby) an engaged couple. Phil was Adam’s roommate before he and Jenny moved in together; Jenny had once had a crush on Adam, but he was too shy to ask her out. Evelyn behaves badly, and the impression she makes on Phil and Jenny is unfavorable.

Love is changing Adam both inside and out. He loses weight, he starts working out, gets contact lenses, upgrades his wardrobe and even gets a nose job, all to please Evelyn or, perhaps in his mind, to be worthy of her. She encourages him but doesn’t push. Still, Adam isn’t entirely happy, and he does something out of character involving Jenny and Phil, which has later ramifications for everyone. Evelyn’s thesis presentation is scheduled, and Adam, Phil and Jenny are in the audience for the unveiling.

Gabrielle is effective as the manipulative Evelyn, drawing Adam out and reversing the Adam’s rib trope. She lets him in on bits and pieces of her so-called life before they met as another means to control him. Kelly does fine work as the sometimes hapless Billy, insofar as the audience can identify with him. Vieira, a senior in college and already an accomplished actor gives us a creditable portrait of the self-centered Phil. And, for me, Ashby is best in show. Her Jenny is the most believable, fully human character among them. She’s the one I’d most like to follow out of the parameters of the story to find out what happens to her next.

Director Alec Wild and Jef Awada (billed as “movement director”) work in  interesting ways, especially when it comes to changing scenes from an art gallery to a bedroom to a living room to a coffee shop. Instead of trying to be subtle about it all, the actors change the sets and interact with each other as they do so—bumping, sneering, smiling—whatever the mood is and the feelings between them at any given moment. It is effective. The very end seems to drag on too long which may fall on Wild.
The malleable set is cleverly designed to be versatile by Scott C. Neale who is doing some of the most interesting scenic work in St. Louis theatre, among other places. The gallery space is a large red painting, white walls and a black bench which easily engages the imagination to see something else in the mind’s eye. Garth Dunbar costumes the actors in appropriate styles and colors for their characters.

Overall, this is a professional performance of a play that doesn’t acquit itself so well on a second look, but still holds some interest as a reversal of the old axiom about being cruel to be kind, the relationships between very young people, the role and function of the arts and what defines art (if that is possible). LaBute examines where the lines between the real and the imagined intersect, cross and blur. If you’re looking for a neat resolution, this play may not satisfy you. If you’re interested in exploring the convergence of innocence and experience through the prism of Neil LaBute’s skewed perspective, then The Shape of Things may well be something you should see.
The Shape of Things by St. Louis Actor’s Studio runs at the Gaslight Theatre through Mar. 7, 2009. For information, visit Tickets may be purchased through Ticketmaster online or by calling 1-800-982-2787. | Andrea Braun


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