The Gate Theatre. Written by Neil LaBute, starring Cillian Murphy, Flora Montgomery, Elisabeth Dermot Walsh and Vincent Walsh.
Set in an unnamed American college town, 'The Shape of Things' charts the massive impact that one forceful personality has on three old friends. Adam, an introverted English Lit Student works in an art gallery part-time. Here he is befriended by the vivacious, Evelyn, an art student whose radical beliefs are played out by her mission at the gallery. This is to deface a sculpture with a spray-can for 'not being true'.
Adam is enthralled by Evelyn's presence and he asks her out. He introduces her to his old roommate Phillip and Philip's girlfriend Jenny. Phillip is a narrow-minded jock who objects to Evelyn's forceful opinions, as he's clearly unused to being challenged by a woman. As time goes on, Evelyn's influence over Adam becomes more and more pronounced as she encourages various 'life changes'. He starts eating well, exercising, he cuts his hair and swaps his glasses for contacts – under her tutelage, he is becoming a new man. His friends are disturbed by these radical changes, but pleased that he's happier and in love. As for plot, that's as far as I'll go so as not to ruin an entertaining evening that hinges on one sharp twist.
Neil LaBute’s latest play is ostensibly a meditation on what constitutes art. Teasing this out in the context of college relationships, the play comes across much like an instalment of a teen drama. The starkly episodic structure underlines this feeling. The passage of time is charted at the beginning of each scene by date and time, so that the growth in Evelyn and Adam’s relationship has to be imagined rather than experienced. The first act lasts for about 35 minutes and consists of just five scenes. Now a play can be any length and still work, but this sketchy introduction and build-up to the inevitable twist fails to provide one with a credible basis for what follows.
Cillian Murphy, of 'Disco Pigs' fame, invests Adam with as believable a 'growth curve' as the underwritten play will allow. His awkward physicality, yet confident vocal delivery provides a wonderful bundle of contradictions. Vincent Walsh, (who excelled as Davor in 'Bachelor’s Walk') effortlessly inhabits the spectrum opposite of Adam, the confident jock embarrassed by his lack of articulacy. Elisabeth Dermot Walsh likewise is perfect as prim, inherently decent, Jenny. The problem lies with Evelyn as portrayed by Flora Montgomery. She plays Evelyn as a darker variation on her comic turn in 'When Brendan met Trudy' and while again she succeeds in seducing the audience, there are few hints of the darkness beneath.
Neil LaBute is the writer/director who came to widespread attention for 'In the Company of Men', a film with an amoral manipulator at its centre. Provocative in the cruelty meted out by a male office-bound executive to a deaf female co-worker, the work couldn’t be accused of being misogynistic, as he was equally vicious towards his male friend. Here again a cold manipulator drives the narrative, but this time it is a woman.
Labute seems to ask himself whenever he sits down to write: What is the nastiest thing I could have this character do to the other? In the climax of this work, Adam explicitly refers to the mistake that many artists make in thinking that it is necessary to shock or provoke to make great art. Just because LaBute has cleverly referred to what he’s frequently accused of, this doesn't serve to invalidate that critique.
LaBute seems to love reminding his audience of humanity's black heart and exult in the label of misanthropist.