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A CurtainUp Review
The Shape of Something Squashed
By Jacob Horn
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.