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A CurtainUp Review
The Shape of Something Squashed

"We're all nobodies - all actors are nobodies until that moment comes when the curtain goes up - and everything you ever did before - all the auditions and rehearsals and performances and applause and reviews and awards, they don't mean anything: NOTHING. You have to start all over again - every time."
Something Squashed
(L-R) Tom Noonan and Monique Vukovic (Photo: Jim Chow).
In Tom Noonan's newly re-opened Paradise Factory, the stage starts off largely empty, but it's about to be filled with some big personalities. Noonan's new play, The Shape of Something Squashed, is populated with complex figures who are simultaneously proud and vulnerable, sympathetic and distasteful, in touch with reality and completely removed from it.

Hermione (Monique Vukovic) is an aging actress whose excessive pride covers up her fears about her future in the theater. Her husband Sedge (Grant James Varjas) is trying to produce his latest play even while unsure of how to fix the flawed script. Mona (Talia Lugacy), the intern, is trying to avoid deportation after running out of money but is being taken advantage of (in about every way possible) by Hermione and Sedge. In key ways, each is utterly dependent on the others.

When the play's star is unable to attend a read through for prospective backers, the arrival of an older actor, Douglas (played by Noonan himself), brings every tension amongst the three to the fore, creating a sharp and sincere story about life in the theatre.

The Shape of Something Squashed resonates with a genuineness that might be informed by Noonan's experiences. Several moments register with such a sting that it's hard to believe there's not some autobiography integrated here, though Noonan doesn't explicitly indicate it.

Douglas is something of a has-been — he once wrote and starred in a musical about Friedrich Nietzsche and hasn't stopped talking about it since, and he jokes about how he's always getting cast as killers. In Hermione and Sedge's company, though, his accomplishments seem trivial, and he's less a has-been than a never-been. His attempts to earn their respect are somewhat successful, but this is fleeting, and he ends up vulnerable to disappointment and manipulation.

The other characters sometimes teeter between grounded and unbelievable. Mona's plight, especially, seems grimmer than anyone acknowledges. Sedge has promised her a green card, but in the meantime she is forced to dress up in period costume and cater to her temperamental benefactors.

Lugacy's moments of impassioned frustration are convincing and true to the character, but they are undercut by a baseless affection Mona feels for the couple (Stockholm Syndrome seems like a stretch). "I am not a sex slave, " she shouts one moment; seconds later, "I love them." When Sedge makes a comment about working on Law & Order you notice he's already living in an episode of SVU. This plot element eventually feels a bit like a loose thread, but ignoring it feels uncomfortable.

Vukovic and Varjas do an admirable job embodying the best and worst of their characters. That it feels so satisfying whenever we see Douglas or Mona call Hermione and Sedge on their BS indicates the actors' success at portraying unsavory characters, but at times they seem legitimately sympathetic. It's a tough balancing act, but the two manage to make it work.

The cast has good presence and dynamism, but the pacing of the play overall is a bit slow. The dialogue has a quick and snappy feel, but it isn't delivered as such. The pauses might be designed to create pregnant moments, but the product is more like empty space.

Noonan has employed this strategy before in his directing. CurtainUp's review of his 1998 Wang Dang observed that "characters speak while seemingly processing and absorbing what others are saying , while their own thoughts are still being processed," which felt realistic in that context. Here, though, it feels more disruptive.

Parts of The Shape of Something Squashed feel a bit unpolished and under-developed, but the core narrative is sound, with Noonan's Douglas grounding the surrounding mania. Despite his fascination with Nietzsche, Douglas is no übermensch, and his trials in the theater make for compelling drama.
The Shape of Something Squashed
Written and directed by Tom Noonan
with Talia Lugacy (Mona), Tom Noonan (Douglas), Grant James Varjas (Sedge), Monique Vukovic (Hermione)
Stage Manager: Paula Wilson
Lighting: Juan Merchan
Costumes: Kathryn Nixon
Costume Assistant: Molly Glover
Props/Dresser: Bianca Falco
Carpenters: Piotr Gawelko and Clark McCasland
Running Time: 2 hours with intermission
The Paradise Factory, 64 East 4th Street
For tickets: 866-411-8111 or visit; $30
From 2/19/2014; opened 2/26/2014; through 3/16/2014
Performance times: Wednesdays thru Fridays at 8 pm; Saturdays at 7:30 and 10 pm; Sundays at 5 pm
Reviewed by Jacob Horn based on 2/21/2014 performance
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