The Shape of Things

The Shape of Things
By Neil LaBute. RoundSquare Productions. Director: Peter Blackburn. Art Design: Ilana Payes. Lighting Design: Aaron Bell. Set design and construction: Chris Purtle. Producer: Josh Blau. No Vacancy Gallery, Melbourne. March 7 – 24, 2013.

Directorial debut – pursuing the place of art.

Peter Blackburn has chosen a technically challenging play for his directorial debut. A balancing act between thought about art and the reality of personhood and relationships, the play’s tension between these two is played out though conversations about art and the dynamics of the influence Evelyn exerts on Adam and his friends.

All four actors capably created their characters, ably supported by the lighting, music and clever conversion of an art gallery into a performance space.

Josh Blau does excellent socially inept cringe and ‘in love’ and clearly has a wide emotional range. Unfortunately, he kept the clamps on too long and failed to make enough of the emotional dilemmas he is forced to face as a result of Evelyn’s influence. In the denouement, his emotional response to complete public emotional devastation was limited to slightly grumpy.

Emily Wheaton as Evelyn managed the flirty, provocative strength that explains Adam’s compulsive attraction. She did not create the sense that her dedication to exploring the nether regions of art is just the scab that covers a deeper dysfunction. This leaves her emotional cruelty unexplained. Both of these actors could have been more strongly directed towards their characters’ darker, wilder side.

The friends, Nicholas Brien as Phillip and Stephanie Lillis as Jenny provided strong support for Adam and Evelyn. There was a stand out moment by Stephanie Lillis when she has a moment of intense emotion that flares her character into truth.

Peter Blackburn has chosen to use American accents which the actors carried off admirably. Costumes also had American 1950ish overtones. These choices removed the play’s commentary from here and now to some ‘other’ space and time. Perhaps this serves to distance the audience as thought driven theatre requires, but it did take some of the emotional connection from the performance.

The bare stage was set with white boxes, a high white café table and a couch/bed/seat which were used in a variety of ways. Each scene had its own intricate model on a plinth under a spotlight to indicate the setting. Scene changes were managed by a drop in lighting levels while the characters reset the boxes and furniture, accompanied by Handel’s Messiah. These were well rehearsed and managed, although at times it was too heavy and took too long. By the time the couch was converted, the boxes carefully rearranged, the stagette placed on the plinth and Handel had Messiahed, whatever tension there was had been well and truly dissipated. The choice of minimalism could have been carried even further since these actors are capable of creating their spaces around them, especially if they were supported with space specific sound or music.

The play asks for a lot from actors and director and much was given. If it fell just short of completely wonderful it gave intimations that this will come with experience.

Ruth Richter

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