Neil LaBute's writing is notorious for bringing out the best in the most deplorable scumbags ever to besmirch our planet. Perhaps best known for the psychologically brutal 1997 art house flick "In the Company of Men," LaBute's world is populated almost entirely with boorish, morally bankrupt WASPs who are never at a loss for witticism. LaBute's stage play "The Shape of Things" feels slightly more hopeful than his past work but stays largely true to his vicious signature form. The play's faithful interpretation by Eye of the Storm Theatre remains affecting despite occasionally toeing the line between irony and self-parody.
Sam Rosen stars as Adam, a geeky and impoverished English graduate student whose sheltered existence is irrevocably changed by a lusty, rebellious, TV-loving MFA candidate at his school named Evelyn, played by Maggie Chestovich. She happily introduces the bespectacled nerd to the wide and wooly pleasures of contacts, tattoos, plastic surgery and amateur pornography. Adam's rapid metamorphosis into a Gap model gives him the desperately needed self-confidence necessary to pursue a furtive affair with his old crush, a shrinking violet named Jenny, played by Zoe Pappas. This of course raises the ire of his lug-headed ex-roomie and semi-pal Phillip, played by Brent Doyle, due to the fact that Jenny is his fiancee. Betrayals abound.
Many things might have changed since the days of simpler sex-as-politics fare featured in early 1970s cinema like "Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice" or "Carnal Knowledge," but sexual ownership issues remain alive and kicking today. Today's angst-ridden 20-somethings haughtily view the "free love experiment" as a colossal failure, yet struggle mightily with where to wag a finger when their partners begin dabbling in infidelity and good old-fashioned jealousy sets in. Much like those pioneering sex dramas of yesteryear, these misanthropic characters quickly corrupt the worthwhile pursuit of personal liberation through naive, simplistic ideology. There are jaundiced assumptions concerning counterculture aplenty, but nary an alternative solution offered.
At times, the show teeters between lampooning the pretentious debates of self-obsessed graduate students and drowning in the type of myopic excess for which the crowd is known. There was no legitimate artistic reason whatsoever for the gratuitous nude scene in "The Shape of Things." Likewise, saturating the numerous transitions with stock photos and college rock standards pushes the hipster dial past eleven. It was not entirely coincidental for the sound crew to rely heavily on Ben Folds CDs, since director Stephen DiMenna is currently working with LaBute and Folds on a musical.
"I love the arts you know, movies and stuff," admits the "Cosmopolitan" quiz aficionado Jenny with noticeable pride in her voice. Advertising is seen here as an insidious and evil force, yet these bohemians in training eagerly choose discussing Sting's exercise regimen over, say, currency speculation in Far Eastern markets or the new Godard film. They are not so much concerned about changing their world post-diploma so much as keeping up appearances.
"Won't you be my Henry Higgins," jokes Adam in a stuttering Cockney accent. LaBute is still rightfully adored for his clipped, rhythmic dialogue that embraces the English language, albeit vulgarly, with a surgeon's precision. However, the closing "life is like my art thesis project" speech is practically toothless compared to the scathing, subzero sadism one is subjected to for the other one and a half hours. Even when breaking up with each other, the vapid characters struggle for the perfect quote to leave on.
Perhaps doing the lovey-dovey film "Possession" last year brought out the compassion factor and softened LaBute up a bit. On the other hand, he followed that with "The Mercy Seat," an off-Broadway play about a man who celebrates surviving the Sept. 11 attacks by cheating on his wife. He cannot be branded misogynistic simply because he hates everybody. Chestovich's performance brings out the visceral mean-spiritedness of Evelyn you came in for in the first place. "The Shape of Things" still slices the jugular as it encapsulates better than most that awkward time in life when you realize what you really need to know is not going to be on the final. As Adam puts it: "But at least I'm educated. At least now I can comprehend how truly fucked I really am." Pass the Kleenex, please.
"The Shape of Things" plays through March 9, Minneapolis Theatre Garage, (612) 343-3390.
Nathan Hall welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org
UMN students have traveled to Florida colleges to collaborate with students on various projects.
When UMN students plan for a vacation, having trip cancellation travel insurance is a worthwhile commodity to check out.
Minneapolis Used Cars
Give back to the Minnesota community with a boat donation at boat4causes.org.
If you have been involved in a car accident call a Philadelphia Car Accident Lawyer for a free consultation.