The Shape of Things at Creative 360: This production packs a personal punch, and plenty to ponder post-show.

Reviewer: Lisa Purchase

Venue: Creative 360

Creative 360’s production of Neil LaBute’s 2001 The Shape of Things is a slick take on the intersection of art and life, and the slide from sane to sociopathic will leave you questioning everything you think you know or feel about the nature of relationships.

This modern take on Pygmalion starts with a pretty normal situation between pretty normal people: nerdy literature student Adam (played by Aaron Mealey) meets edgy art student Evelyn (played by Danielle Katsoulos), their ideologies clash, their interest is sparked, and they start up a relationship. They hang out with Adam’s friends, Phillip (who’s a bit of an *ss-hole, played Andrew Fergerson) and Jenny (played by Brianne Dolney-Jacobs), another couple working out the evolving state of their relationship. They started out as characters I felt I could partially identify with, people I recognize in my real life. With humor and verve, the main characters trade jibes and literary and pop culture references, and we get pulled into the nuances of their lives together.

And then gradually, almost imperceptibly, things slide into extremes that will leave you wondering (and vigorously debating afterward), “When did it cross the line?” 

And this is the beauty of this script: every person will have a very different answer to that question.

No one is the hero of this story, and the villains have their specific truths to contribute. Boundaries are elusive and hard to define, but the easily abhorrent Evelyn is the only one with a certain kind of self-integrity; she reveals her priorities and intentions immediately and stays true to her stated principles throughout, despite the monstrous results. Phillip (who’s a bit of an *sshole) is the only one who seems to grasp heathy boundaries, while the surface-likable Adam and Jenny have a really difficult time finding their own boundaries or respecting the boundaries of others.

Director Laura Brigham chose a potentially difficult but excellent script, and made a riveting production with the right cast and the right set. It’s a difficult task to make a play that consists of only four people just talking to each other interesting, but this cast of veteran actors did a bang-up job of keeping us on the edge of our seats for 100 minutes straight through. The pacing was tight, and the layered dialogue was clear and snappy. For a show that’s as “talky” as this is, I don’t think I lost a single word. Each portrayal was natural and convincing, leading us to feel like we were just watching people living their lives, not something scripted and theatrical. I can’t point to stand-outs here, as each of the four characters was perfectly played for the part. It was a delight to see some former favorites back on the mid-Michigan stage, and to get acquainted with the work of some terrific Creative 360 regulars who are new to this reviewer.

Deceptively minimalistic, Scenic Designer Jazz Benitez’s art gallery set is packed with symbol and meaning. The gallery setting is maintained throughout, putting these characters’ lives on exhibition as “art”. Draping brings height and movement, mirrors bring depth and reveal the double-sided nature of the actual pieces of art on display. The well thought-out art gallery concept brings a knowing meta component to a show that explores the blurry line between art and life.

The scene changes flowed smoothly and were sharply punctuated by sound and light cues. There were no gentle fade-outs; lights snapped off and on, and the soundtrack was very much a component of the show, not just background filler. The music complements the story with energetic call-backs to the previous scene: “Waking Up” by MJ Cole & Freya Ridings, “Play with Fire” by Sam Tinnesz, “You Don’t Own Me” by Nikki Williams, “Your Love is like Petrol” by Client, “Not Enough” by Elvis Drew & Avivian. This carefully curated soundtrack kept the story moving even during the pauses between scenes.

This Creative 360 production of The Shape of Things is the very best sort of entertainment: one that challenges our beliefs, pokes some holes in our world view, makes us a little uncomfortable. One that gives us something to talk about. The post-show talk-back offered is an acknowledgement of the complex and somewhat difficult material presented here.

Our half-hour drive home last night was filled with enthusiastic discussion and animated debate. We vigorously debated boundaries, identity, empathy, weakness, strength, desirability, the meaning of art, the role and nature of relationships, and the meaning and intent of nearly every word and action from these characters. 

And the question of what happens next for these characters was another wonderful source of speculation (and disagreement).

We could have used a longer drive.

Go see The Shape of Things (TONIGHT), preferably with someone to share the inevitable debate afterward. This show will mean something different for every person who sees it.

The performances are March 15 & 16 at 7 pm on the 5501 Jefferson Ave stage. Tickets are $15 prepay, or $20 at the door. There will be a short talk back with the cast after each performance. You can preregister at: www.becreative360.org/events/ or by calling (989) 837-1885. Please note – this show has adult language and adult content.


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