By Claire Barco
Tomorrow brings us East West Theatre’s twelfth production to date with The Shape of Things, written by Neil LaBute. The story centers around four angsty students from some Midwest college, all getting in each others business (read: pants), and leading to some drastic outcomes – a tale we’re sure some of us will find hits a little close to home.
When Adam, an insecure part-time security guard, meets the feisty art student Evelyn, it’s lust at first sight. They quickly become entangled in an intense affair, and we watch as Adam goes to great lengths to improve his image in the eyes of the calculating Evelyn, much to the dismay of his two besties, Philip and Jenny. Only in the shocking denouement are Evelyn’s true intentions made clear. It’s an intense and challenging look at the values of Western culture, written by a dude who got kicked out of the Church of Latter Day Saints. True story.
We sat down with director Amy Brummit to get her thoughts on how the production is shaping up, Shanghai’s growing expat theatre scene, and what this story will mean for the expat community.
Where: Shanghai Pingtan Theatre, 860 Nanjing Xi Lu 南京西路860号
When: Wednesday (Jan 20), Thursday (Jan 21), and Friday (Jan 22) at 8pm
Amy, now that the opening night is so close for you, I’m sure the team is delving very deeply into what this play is about. What have the rehearsals shown you?
Well, what we’ve come to realize lately is that Evelyn’s character is not what it immediately appears to be. At first we thought of her like Glenn Close’s character in Fatal Attraction, just plain crazy. But we’ve been discovering that in fact she’s just a woman with a purpose. Without giving away the ending, she has a valid point to make, and she’s decided that a few casualties along the way are worth it. The ends justify the means for Evelyn.
So, you were living in Africa before you moved to Shanghai. Were you involved in theatre there as well?
I was teaching in Ghana before, and there was no expat theatre to be found. So moving to Shanghai and discovering these opportunities was just so great. In fact, with the Shanghai Repertory Theatre just starting in November, we now have three different theatre companies, along with East West and Zuloo Productions. It’s great to have so many options. If all of us can work together to stagger the release of our shows, there can be a very active theatre-going scene here in Shanghai. I’m very excited about expat theatre here now.
Some people claim that Neil LaBute hates humanity. What do you think about that?
This is my second time directing, the first being a play that I wrote. So it’s been very interesting to interpret someone else’s work for the first time. But no, I don’t think he hates humanity. I do think that he looks at humanity objectively, and shows us what wrong with our Western culture. After watching it you think, “Is this what we value?”
How do you think the audience will react to a critique of Western culture when, assuming the audience is mainly expat, they are already living away from the West?
I think it will hit harder than for somebody watching it for the first time in America, let’s say. I mean, when I go back to America I’m looking at the culture, and though it’s familiar, I’m seeing it in a totally different way. It’s like looking through a glass. So I think for expats here that are constantly comparing and contrasting every day, it will be very effective.
So about the characters again. Evelyn’s made this decision to act this certain way, manipulating Adam and turning him into a different person. Would you say that Adam is a victim of Evelyn’s scheming?
No, Adam is not a victim. He has free will the entire time he’s with Evelyn, and he makes these changes himself. He does it for her, maybe, but he’s still making his own decisions.
Would you say then that The Shape of Things is a play about the decisions we make as humans?
Yes, very much so. Everything is about decisions the whole way through. You could say it’s a play about condensed choice.
This play is originally set in a Midwest college. Will your interpretation keep the original setting?
Yes. We did keep the setting in the Midwest. I’m originally from Indiana, but I’ll tell you it’s been interesting with the international cast we have. I took the cast to Marks and Spencer’s, our in-kind sponsor, to get them their costumes. They just could not believe what I was picking out for them. I had to explain to them that, yes, people do dress like this in the Midwest. It’s not a joke.
East West Theatre is a non-profit organization, so you all have your own jobs as well as working in the arts. It must be exhausting.
It is tiring yes, but I just love it so much. Our rehearsals have been fantastic and we’ve all worked together so well. There’s been no drama other than the play itself. Without wanting to jinx it, it’s been smooth sailing, and I just hate to see this play end.
The show will be this Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday at 8pm at the Shanghai Pingtan Theatre, 860 Nanjing Xi Lu, directly across from Marks and Spencer’s, outside Nanjing Xi Lu station, exit 2. Tickets are available for presale at Cotton’s on Anting Lu or Xinhua Lu. But don’t worry, if you show up at the door you will be accommodated. Doors at 7pm. Alternatively, you can ring East West Theatre directly at 13564102955 or email [email protected]