Last week, Claire Barco interviewed the director of East West Theater’s new production, Neil LaBute’s The Shape of Things. She then went to go see it. Below, her impressions of the event.
On an unseasonably warm Wednesday evening in January, a small performance space tucked away from the rush of Nanjing Lu was filled with a mixture of well dressed theater enthusiasts and well-wishers from all over the globe. Pleasantries were being exchanged in at least five different languages as people enjoyed their pre-show wine and cookies, while 90s college classics such as Sublime’s “What I Got” played over the intercom. The ambiance is relaxed, and though the venue may be a little difficult to find it does add to the feeling that we were all here to enjoy something special.
In the opening scene in an art museum, an art student steps over the velvet rope with a can of spray paint. Evelyn, played by Erika Joy Mitschrich, seems ill at ease and crosses the stage with stunted movements. This could be chalked up to the small size of the stage itself, however, at times feeling cramped albeit with only four people on stage.
The play follows the development of an unbalanced relationship, as Evelyn manipulates Adam (played by Derek Kwan) into changing his appearance little by little, even until he even goes in for plastic surgery. At the same time, Evelyn begins to change his relationships with his only two friends, Phillip (played by Joakim Eriksson) and Jenny (played by Laura Coughlin, very enjoyable young woman to watch) until he agrees to no longer see them.
The idea of a college relationship taking a turn for the worse is common enough, but Neil Labute’s writing keeps one interested. An argument between a new girlfriend and an old friend, for example, is something I’d venture to say most of us have been part of or witness to. In The Shape of Things, however, the argument is of an intellectual nature regarding the nature of art, one of the through-lines of the work, holding the audience’s attention.
Being a graduate of a Midwest college herself, director Amy Brummit did an excellent job milking the inlaid comedy for what it’s worth. The relationship between Phillip and Adam is the most convincing, thanks to a very believable performance from Erikkson.
The final act, when we discover Evelyn’s intentions towards Adam aren’t what they appeared, was very well done, eliciting shocked laughter from the audience on numerous occasions. Mitschrich’s performance was well timed and properly emotionally removed, aligning the audience with Adam and his dismay and sadness over the loss of his only “real” relationship.
Can manipulation be justified? Where does art stop making a point and start being cruel? How far should one go for the sake of love? These are just some of questions posed by The Shape of Things, and one left the theater that night being glad they went. It’s a step in the right direction, and I for one look forward to more from East West Theatre, from these actors, and from Brummit.