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Rants, Raves and Reviews: The Shape of Things

The Shape of Things
by Neil Labute
Directed by Sabrina Evertt
Waterfront Theatre
August 22 – September 1
Twenty Something Theatre

Vancouver, BC: Take two seemingly unrelated questions - what moral values lead to destructive human relationships? And what aesthetic values define art? - combine through the unforgiving pen of playwright/ director, Neil Labute, and you get the edgy disturbing play, The Shape of Things, that previewed last night at the Waterfront Theatre, on Granville Island.

The setting for the play is a liberal arts college in a Midwestern town. Evelyn (Julie McIsaac) is an art student working on her thesis for her MFA degree. Adam (Joel Sturrock) is a shy, awkward, English literature student, working as a part-time security guard at a local museum jobs to get by. They meet when Evelyn, attractive and aggressive, challenges Joel to stop her from defacing one of the exhibits. This encounter leads to an affair during which Evelyn becomes the dominant figure in Adam's world, reshaping his person, his attire and his friendships. Phillip (Jon Lachlan Stuart) is Adam's ex-roommate, now engaged to Jenny (Lisa Aasebo). Jenny harbors an unexpressed attraction for Adam. Over time, Evelyn's machinations alienate Adam from Phillip and Jenny, and destroying their relationship as well.

As only the second production of Twenty-Something Theatre, this was a risky play to chose. In particular, the first act which lacks a major conflict, needs strong direction and acting to convey the tensions and nuances of the relationships between the four young people. Instead the first act was slow and one-dimensional. However the energy picked up remarkably after the intermission and the tension was maintained until the incredibly disturbing denouement.

I liked Josh Hallem's simple but effective set, with the art piece looming above the actors. Ian Lanterman's soundscape evoked the sensation of being in a museum – are we all really just creations in an exhibit?

With respect to the morality of relationships, the script makes for some uncomfortable moments. Even as one reacts with shocked disbelief to Evelyn's explanation of her actions, Labute asks us to consider the question; who has never thought to oneself that another person would be perfect if only he or she could change this one thing? And how can an individual achieve a level of self-esteem and confidence to resist those who attack our unique identities?

The other question Labute asks is - what is art? Labute takes this perennial question beyond aesthetics into the realm of morality but I don't want to spoil the drama and so that's all I will say about this now.

It is certainly a thought provoking play. Hopefully the pace in the first act will pick up. Be sure to come back after intermission – the second act holds most of the interesting aspects of the play.