The shape of things (written in lower-case by playwright Neil Labute) intends to raise questions about art, its role in life and the value of the creative methods. Honesty, kindness and truth seem to be of lesser concern.
Art student Evelyn meets Adam, a nerdy museum guard. As their relationship grows she begins to change him in emotional and physical ways (trendier clothing, contact lenses, a nose job, lost weight and stepping away from other long-time friendships, all at Evelyn’s request). Adam’s about-to-be-married friends Phillip and Jenny observe the changes warily.
Director Gary Seddon reinforces the context with a sparse set decorated with art chairs, silver skulls, pink flamingos and fabric art to encase his characters in the contemporary academic art world. The staging is unobtrusive, allowing the language and the actors to keep the focus.
One staging gimmick works very well during scene changes. Evelyn and a clothing store clerk publicly undress and re-dress Adam, gradually changing his looks. Each dressing, their shared knowing glances report that their improvement is good. Making Adam’s transformation so public and so overt — while he seems so obliviously in love with Evelyn that he doesn’t notice — adds to his pathos.
Pat Reynolds is revelatory in the role of Adam. Actors who can physically capture the unique gestures and rhythms of their character seem not so available since method-acting style took vogue. But Reynolds is expert at it. In the earlier Private Lives, he physically conveyed the dignity and bearing of an upper-crust British gentleman; in the shape of things, he is utterly believable as a hunched-over, socially inept, nerdy student. His gradual transformation into confident college preppy is believable precisely because he changes his stance, mannerisms and speaking cadence.
The role of Evelyn is a rich theatrical role. It is also a thankless one because she is not a sympathetic or kind person. Karen Grim does a good job in the role, conveying the self-absorption and arrogance that can take hold of art students.
Lawrence Griffin portrays Adam’s former roommate Phillip, an annoying character whose vulnerabilities are exposed as events progress. He and Reynolds are utterly believable as friends who know each other well, finish each other’s sentences and also know how to push each other’s buttons.
As Phillip’s fiancée Jenny (who once dated Adam) Stephanie Morelli does well when playing off Reynolds and Griffin but is less strong in her scenes with Grim.
Labute’s script is erudite and witty as well as annoying and infuriating. On the good side, he makes you laugh, and he makes you think. On the flip side, his questions are sculpted in arrogant and polarizing ways.
What is art is certainly a question asked by all artists and audiences. The cruelty of how Labute phrases the question may make for an interesting theatre experience with some very funny dialogue. However, does it elevate the discourse? Can’t say that it does.
Director: Gary Seddon. Producer: Drea Elward. Costume designer: Linda Swann. Lighting designer: Ian Belanger. Sound designer: Alex Banos. Stage designer: Laurie Nolan. Stage manager: Dave Walter. Properties: Charlotte Robinson.
Playing thru June 25 at 8pm ThFSa; 2pm Su; 7:30pm June 19 at Colonial Players, 108 East St., Annapolis. $20 w/discounts: 410-268-7373; http://thecolonialplayers.org.