Base Anarchy: “The Shape of Things”

Poster courtesy of Brad Costa Designs

Presented by the Glass Horse Project
By Neil Labute
Directed by Taylor K. Corbett

May 30 – June 1, 2019
Co+ Creative Center
137 Union St
New Bedford, MA

Critique by Kitty Drexel

Trigger warnings: gaslighting, manipulation, sexual content, domestic abuse, misandry

(New Bedford, MA) Neil Labute uses his plays to pit the lawfully evil against people so truthfully neutral that they lack personality.  The personalities always win. Meek characters are traumatized. This weekend the Glass Horse Project examines art, and the identity we tie to it in The Shape of Things. The audience might be disturbed by Labute’s play but they can’t say they weren’t entertained.

Adam (Korey J. Pimental) is a student holding down two jobs while pursuing a liberal arts degree at Mercy College. He’s the security guard for an art exhibit when he meets Evelyn (Kerri Lamothe), a rebellious activist art student also at Mercy. They start dating and Evelyn proves to be a positive influence on Adam’s appearance, social life and personality. Engaged friends, modest Jenny (Monica Hartford) and yuppy-bro Phillip (Geoffrey D. Besser) notice the changes. It’s when Adam’s newfound charisma attracts Jenny that Adam questions his progress. The Shape of Things is also a 2003 movie based on Labute’s play.

The Shape of Things is what happens when a “nice guy” with no defenses meets the wrong, morally uninhibited gal. Evelyn (as cunningly played by Lamothe) is a modern Dr. Frankenstein in Henry Higgins’ clothing. Her methods are social pressure and sex. Adam as played by the guileless Pimental is a lamb gleefully prancing his way to the slaughterhouse. Labute’s play condenses consumer culture marketing practices and reality TV dopamine chasing into a series of one on one relationship transactions into a guy/gal relationship. What Evelyn lacks is informed consent from Adam. Adam might not have much value as a functional adult but he’s still a person and deserves respect. 

Director Corbett, Lamothe and Pimental deliver the emotionally graphic but physically reserved sex scene with great maturity. Audience members might experience discomfort with this scene but they shouldn’t blame the cast or crew. The choices the three made in staging the scene respect both the text and the actors involved. More modest audience members should take responsibility for their viewing and heed Glass Horse’s many warning about sexual content.   

The cast has developed their characters into complicated humans but their conversations lack shape, the production lacks arcs. Dialogue doesn’t crescendo into arguments; our characters converse normally and abruptly explode into screaming matches. There is much flow but no build up.

Glass Horse’s cast is trying too hard to make their characters likable. Neil Labute doesn’t write likeable characters. He writes deeply flawed characters who bumble onto interpersonal-drama while knowingly making morally compromising choices. Anyone who’s taken a theatre class knows that it’s an actor’s job to make their character someone the audience can identify with. That sometimes means employing likability. Unfortunately, Labute doesn’t give a flying fig about theatre 101 and likability. Finding a compromise between what Labute wants and what the audience wants is tricky. He’s a dick like that. 

The Shape of Things is a bad psychological trip that may necessitate a stiff drink afterward. As a staunch intersectional feminist, I find it hilarious that Labute projects the very standards society demands of women onto an unwitting young man. But this is not a funny play. It’s not hilarious that a woman abuses a young man’s vulnerability. We all want to be loved but love is much more than jumping through hoops to please someone into loving you back.

Most importantly, the Glass Horse Project offers the small community of New Bedford the opportunity to see adult theatre in a locale dominated by family-safe children’s theatre. Support your local theatre companies while they develop into their talents. Test your boundaries and learn as they learn.

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