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A CurtainUp BerkshiresBerkshire Review

The Shape Of Things

You are dangerously close to owning me
---Adam, the shy giggly literature student to the more sophisticated Jenny who, to his delight and amazement, has become his lover.

Julianne Boyd has given Barrington Stage audiences a chance to acquaint themselves with Kenneth Lonergan and Neil LaBute, two of the most intriguing practitioners of the art of playwriting. Their knack for creating pungent dramas about people interesting to younger as well as older audiences have enabled them to shuttle successfully between film and theater. Lonergan's views his characters through a kinder gentler lens than LaBute, whose work has been described by some critics with adjectives like "brutish" and "mean-spirited." This may account for Ms. Boyd's decision to mount Lonergan's Lobby Hero ( review) on her larger, more geared to crowd pleasing, Main Stage and LaBute's The Shape of Things in her smaller, harder to work in Second Stage theater. No matter. The chief disappointment about both plays is that they're here and gone faster than you can say "Lonergan" or "LaBute."

As with Lobby Hero I saw and reviewed The Shape of Things when it played Off-Broadway (as did Lizzie Loveridge during its London run, ( combined reviews). Despite the fact that I knew what was going to happen during the jaw-dropping final scenes, I'm glad to have had the chance to see how Shape of Things shapes up in a regional production, without a cast whose feet are firmly planted on the rising star ladder and without the author to direct.

Director Andrew Volkoff has dealt well with the compromises of working within the confines of a small budget and a venue with a miniscule back stage area. He's relinquished the aggressive soundtrack of the Smashing Pumpkins which added coloration to the Promenade Theater production but which would probably deafen a few audience members in this space. With the help of scenic designer Eric Koger he manages to evoke the shifting locales of the small town in which the story unfolds. He gets sensitive work from his ensemble of actors who are still in the formative phase of their careers.

The upstage backdrop, with the play's title projected at the right side, effectively overarches the progress of its two couples' relationships -- or, to be more precise, the progressively ominous twists and turns these relationships take. Volkoff makes creative use of that backdrop for a blowup of what originally was seen on a small tv screen and the raised platform enhances the penultimate scene. These minor changes do not alter what some may see as the author's ultimately caving in a bit to viewers who want some sort of statement to justify the premise which drives the play. Kristopher Castle's costumes, especially for Jenny's flamboyant artsy look, are also on the mark.

The props moved by the actors are, as in Ears On a Beatle, rather distracting -- but such are the concessions sometimes needed to bring a good play to a small regional venue. The up side of the nuts and bolts staging is that somehow the words are everything and have a stronger impact -- so that this Shape of Things remains eminently watchable.

A consumer caveat: If your enjoyment of a play is dependent on perfect temperatures and comfortably padded seating, be aware that the air conditioning cools of the theater before the show, but is too noisy to remain on during the performance. But why miss the play? Bring a bottle of ice water, a pillow for your folding chair, and enjoy.

Playwright: Neil La Bute
Director: Andrew Volkoff
Cast: Carolyn Kozlowski/Evelyn; Brian Henderson/Adam, Will Beinbrink/Philip, Jessica Hencey/Jenny
Scenic Design: Eric Koger
Lighting Design: James Milkey
Sound Design: Chris Leffel
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours, without an intermission
Stage II at the Consolati Performing Arts Center in Sheffield. (413/528-8888
July 30, 2003-August 10, 2003; opening August 3
Wednesday through Sunday at 7:30m p.m.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on August 3rd performance
Extended to August 16th!

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