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October 11-17, 2006

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'The Shape of Things'

Photograph by Dana Glover
Man in the Middle: Chris Gaoiran finds himself in a debate about art with Wanda Reimer (left) and Shannon Tierney.

Getting In Shape

Northside Theatre Company unveils questions about art in 'The Shape of Things'

By Marianne Messina


DIRECTOR Richard T. Orlando maintains a sense of mischievous excitement in his Northside Theatre Company production of The Shape of Things. At any given time, set pieces for several scenes remain onstage, but they are veiled, and each scene begins with an unveiling. By the climactic scene, when the stage contains two veiled easels that represent Evelyn's completed art project, the suspense is juicy (even if you've seen the movie or know the ending).

Veiled or unveiled, the statue that kicks off a discussion about honesty in art between two college students, Evelyn (Wanda Reimer) and Adam (Chris Gaoiran), remains rear and center throughout the play. Their relationship begins when nerdy Adam, who works as a guard, confronts Evelyn in the museum, just as she's about to deface the statue with spray paint to make a point about the male member hidden by fig leaves. Shortly thereafter, Adam takes Evelyn to visit his two good friends, Jenny (Shannon Tierney) and Phillip (Chuck Phelps), who are planning to be married. There, the first blow-up ensues between Evelyn with her militant agenda and the pragmatic, easygoing Phillip.

As the play examines intimacy and honesty on the palette of love, most scenes unfold around relationships of two—Adam and Evelyn, Jenny and Phillip, Adam and Chuck and so forth. But the intimacy of the pairs only breeds entangling alliances among the four, resulting in humor and lots of conflict. The truncated phrases in Neil LaBute's script require the smoothest, fleetest timing, and after a brief warm-up period, all four performers become very fluid at cut-off, overlapping and wandering speech. Gaoiran makes his Adam utterly endearing; Phelps captures the college-boy nonchalance; Tierney delivers the essence of a girl who's used to getting by on her looks. Their youthful cadences fall out easy and unselfconsciously.

Still, responsibility for the piquant appeal, not to mention suspense, of the play falls on Reimer. As Evelyn, who may be more art chauvinist than she is artist, Reimer pulls off a magnificent combination of unsettling qualities. Her chilly, sometimes smug, exterior seems to be masking a personality somewhere between control freak and psychopath. There's always a sense that she's going to "turn into" something very nasty, especially when the disturbed strings of the intersticial music (Jamie D. Mann, sound design) suddenly switch to bellish sounds from the twilight zone.

Yet, among references to Frankenstein and My Fair Lady, it's Adam who turns into the fashioned "creature." Even the scene changes—for example, Jenny/Tierney cleans off the table unhurriedly, deliberately and seemingly in character—help promote an ominous mood. Just before the scene in which Evelyn presents her art project to, presumably, an audience of fellow college art students and professors, Adam meets his estranged friend Phillip. This whole scene takes place on the floor of the real audience, in hushed tones as if Evelyn is a presence dominating players and audience alike. Soon Jenny comes in and joins the whispered conversation until Evelyn arrives onstage, and they all take their seats among us in the theater audience.

This is a delicious moment. As Evelyn unveils her project and makes her abstract claims, the players storm one by one out of the theater, and she's left addressing us, which makes her statement about art very intimate. The play itself poses questions relating to art and honesty relevant in the '80s but perhaps retired or assimilated today. Happily, this production invests in a strong character study, a good bit of humor and a fun sense of showmanship.


The Shape of Things, a Northside Theatre Company production, plays Thursday-Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 3pm through Oct. 29. For mature audiences. Tickets are $12/$15. (408.288.7820)


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