Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Shape of Things, Public House Theatre (Grade C-)

By Neil LaBute
Directed by Dustin Milberg
Robert Alsman  .....  Adam
Kacey Griffin  .....  Jenny
Briana Ratterman  .....  Evelyn
Schuyler Schmidt  .....   Phillip

plot w/ SPOILER ALERT:  female art student seduces frumpy boy and makes him into her 'art project' Ie she is molding human flesh.  Using her 'attractiveness' / powers of seduction / sexuality / and his desires as tools she suggests changes he might make in his appearance--which he willingly agrees to and which alter his appearance for the better (lose weight, be healthier, dress more fashionably etc) making him a more 'attractive' person.  Everyone notices the change--he is happy and she records it all in diary, film video, etc.  What she also records are changes in his moral character--which are not improvements.  IN the end she revels she has no love for him--it was all an art project--and then they discuss what is and isn't art.

sez says:  The play itself is rather interesting--it does bring up worthy subjects for discussion: how we can be influenced the surfaces of things --and how we might do better to pay attention to the content of those things; what is free will and how is it influenced by desire; to what extent is it acceptable for the making of art to ignore the moral universe, especially if its aim is to make us see the moral universe; and if we are happy without knowing the truth, would we be better off not knowing the truth if that truth will make us unhappy...and more.  The content of this play is packed with powerful questions..and to its credit it does not try to answer those questions.  It  offers material for discussion and argument: to paraphrase one of the characters, the play says: you don't have to agree with me but you need to respond.  Well done that...

But here is the rub--this version was not very well done. We are told Adam has gone through an amazing transformation--but we don't see it on stage.  This transformation is supposedly accomplished by the replacement of an oversize coat with a designer jacket and by taking off his glasses.  It doesn't work.  Adam needs to be altered in order to convey what the script says is happening--and he is not altered in any substantial way. Not in his appearance or in the content of his behavior.  There are plenty of ways this change might have been conveyed--but evidently the director did not think it necessary, making us wonder if he had any idea what this play might be about.  Overall the acting was rather lackluster: Griffin and Ratterman did their parts well--but Alsman was flat --and Schmidt did not make himself into the jerk that the script called for.  Again, we can suppose this was a problem with directing --as a problem with casting.

mjc says:  a transformation project that wasn't transformative. I am realizing that I am weary of minimalist sets and washed out directing.

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