What’s up with Neil Labute? On the surface this controversial American playwright, director, and screenwriter seems pretty normal. I interviewed him when he was here a couple of years ago directing The Wicker Man. He was generous, articulate, funny—the kind of guy you’d be happy to have marry your sister.
But most of the men he writes about, if they came near your sister you’d want to call the cops. And his women aren’t much better. If some of them were your sisters you’d change families.
For the worst date movie ever, rent In the Company of Men. And for another twisted view of how awful men and women in relationships can be towards one another, take your squeeze to the play The Shape of Things, also available as a Labute film.
A young company called Twenty-Something Theatre tackles this nasty but fascinating piece of work with mixed success.
Adam (Joel Sturrock) and Evelyn (Julie McIssac) meet at a mid-western American college. He’s a passive, nerdy English major. She’s attractive, aggressive, and outspoken, a grad student in Art. Soon they’re in a relationship. Adam falls hard for Eve—I mean Evelyn—and she leverages his feelings to get him to make himself over. He changes his clothes and his hair style, starts working out and stops biting his nails. Soon he’s replaced his glasses with contacts. He even gets a nose job.
None of this escapes Adam’s abrasive friend Phillip (Jon Lachlan Stewart), who challenges Evelyn, going head to head with her in the best scene in the play. Nor does Evelyn get along too well with Phillip’s conservative, small-town fiancée, Jenny (Lisa Aasebo).
A variety of sexual entanglements and betrayals complicate their relationships, leading to a shock ending which I can’t give away. It has something to do with claims about the amorality and subjectivity of art, but seems to me more about the potential darkness of the human heart.
McIssac is very good at maintaining Evelyn’s manipulative, self-confident façade, though a little more variety and subtlety in the performance might make it easier to understand how Adam could fall in love with her. Stewart gets the smart-ass, not very likable Phillip just right, and Aasebo is fine as mousy Jenny but overplays her nerves.
Sturrock does too much fussy nerd-acting at the start and his vocal rhythms are sometimes strange, but he settles down to make Adam funny and kind of sweet, a Labute character almost worth caring about.
Director Sabrina Evertt paces the show very nicely until the final scene, which bogs down in anticlimax.
If you see this with someone you care about, remember to tell them it’s only a play.