Photo by Ed Krieger/
Laguna PlayhousePlaywrights have often focused on intellectual battles over art as a way to peer into the more emotionally turbulent realm of human relationships (Yasmina Reza's Artand Tom Stoppard's Arcadiaare two notable recent examples). Fewer playwrights use the complicated dynamic of human relationships to comment on art—and on the subjectivity of truth in general—which is what Neil LaBute does in his provocative, brilliant play The Shape of Things, receiving its West Coast premiere at the Laguna Playhouse.
Deceptively simple, The Shape of Things is about the way people in love exercise or surrender control in order to change or appease one another. Beneath that, The Shape of Things is about truth, about whether love or art or ideas can truly be True in a world of 5 billion distinct moral universes.
It's dangerous to talk too much about plot in a play with such a delicious hook. We'll leave it at this: dorky undergrad English lit major Adam (a fully rounded, lovingly vulnerable Michael Eric Strickland) meets opinionated post-grad applied theory and crit major Evelyn (a perfectly earnest Stacy Solodkin) at a museum. The museum, of course, is Edenic. The two fall in love; as their names suggest, the tale is a re-reading of the Original Sin. Evelyn begins a gradual makeover of Adam's appearance. As Adam's self-esteem rises, he confronts moral ambiguities, particularly relating to his two best friends, Philip (a believable, somewhat game-show hosty Jay Boyer) and Philip's sweet, "normal" fiancee, Jenny (the sweet, "normal" Robyn Cohen).
That's the play at its barest. But trust me: you don't want to know what's truly going on until it's too late. LaBute ingeniously keeps things exciting through this very talky two-hour-and-15-minute play (there's no intermission, and none is needed), and director Richard Stein and his highly capable technical crew do everything right visually and aurally to keep things moving.
There is a lot to like in LaBute's play, but his greatest stroke may be the fact that his cruelest, most selfish character is also his most admirable. While everyone else drifts in a swamp of uncertainty—about their emotions or appearances—this character is the most self-aware, the most committed. But that character's commitment is to just one thing: the head. America says it loves heart, but in this play, the heart is a weaker organ. The collision between head and heart, when it comes, is as compelling as a fatal car accident.
In LaBute's play, one character's journey ends in poignantly rendered territory, a raw place where the heart is revealed for what it truly is: utterly incapable of making sense of the rational. It's a place of intense frustration and loneliness, but also, depending on the shape of things, one of great liberation and triumph. There are no losers in love—even the bitterest heartache is proof that you're still alive. And as one character observes by flipping off the entire audience, the only thing that is truly worth saying fuck you to is indifference, whether that's to moral, emotional or intellectual paralysis.
The Shape of Things at the Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Rd., Laguna Beach, (949) 497-ARTS. Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m. Through June 30. $24-$45.