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Rose & Walsh

The Shape of Things

By Minneapolis
Maggie Chestovich and Sam Rosenin The Shape of Things
Maggie Chestovich and Sam Rosen
in The Shape of Things
I'm not going to reveal the ending of The Shape of Things, Eye of the Storm Theatre's current production in Minneapolis. However, by the conclusion of playwright Neil LaBute's black comedy, I was nauseated. It felt as if my skin was scratched so raw, any human touch would be unbearable and that drug therapy would be the only way to recapture my self-esteem. LaBute and director Stephen DiMenna succeeded in unnerving me and many in the audience by pitting truth against fiction while exploring the role of artistic representation and exploitation in everyday life. Big words for a simple, yet sadly intriguing story.

The Shape of Things focuses on Evelyn (played by Maggie Chestovich), a graduate art student who encounters Adam (Sam Rosen), a geeky undergrad with a correspondingly geeky major -- English Literature. As Adam's infatuation turns into love, he enthusiastically submits to Evelyn's efforts to reinvent and reconstruct him alá Pygmalion. Through her hard work and his willing acquiescence, the nerd blossoms into a buffed up boy-toy who could proudly participate in the latest Abercrombie & Fitch advertising campaign.

It would seem that LaBute enjoys examining the unseemly side of life. In the name of aesthetics, Evelyn is able to prey emotionally and sexually on her friends. It's no coincidence that her initials spell "EAT," which Adam graciously tattoos on his groin, or that she is overly concerned with "the shape of things." (The word "thing" is used as a euphemism for "penis" in the first scene.) Given LaBute's theater and film credits, which include brutal works like bash and In the Company of Men, it isn't surprising American Theatre Magazine claimed he is an "American Aesop, a mad moral fabulist serving stiff tonic for our country's sin-sick souls."

DiMenna's direction refuses to take centerstage. Rather, he places an emphasis on LaBute's quick-witted dialogue and his cast's ability to deliver its naturalistic rhythms. DiMenna and LaBute have previously worked together at the Manhattan Class Company's production of The Mercy Seat, starring Sigourney Weaver. Due in part to this collaboration, LaBute requested that DiMenna include a small scene which was originally cut from the New York production but re-inserted for the film version of The Shape of Things, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last month.

Eye of the Storm's production features a young yet stellar cast, rounded out with Zoe Pappas as Jenny and Brent Doyle as Phillip. While Rosen and Chestovich provide standout performances as Adam and Evelyn, all take their cues from DiMenna's direction, seldom playing up-front or center. Rather, they hug the periphery of the stage and pay close attention to the ensemble nature of play, focusing on their counterparts' actions and reactions. This makes their characters' conquest by Eveyln even more disturbing and convincing. Coincidentally, Chestovich and Pappas were recently designated by the St. Paul Pioneer Press as "Twin Cities Actors to Watch Under 30."

The sets and lighting, designed by Mark Hauck and Karin Olson, respectively, are provided by a series of starkly sectionalized muslin backdrops with images of body parts projected onto them. Symbolically suggesting an artist's studio, they provide an eerie reflection of the play's themes and the character's motivations

In the United Kingdom's production of The Shape of Things, the cast didn't take a curtain call, causing a stir among many theatergoers. And, on opening night, several high profile patrons walked out before the show began due to the ultra-high audio level of the Smashing Pumpkins' pre-show music. While this production features a curtain call and well-regulated sound levels, it certainly fits well with its presenting theater's name, placing itself squarely into the eye of the storm. No audience member is likely to leave The Shape of Things unchanged.


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