Neil LaBute’s 2001 play has big themes: the morality of art; the morality of love. Yet they’re not really explored. They are plastered all over the walls as if a three year old was given an idea-filled pressure washer. The play’s premise - and the nature of its final plot twist - are obvious to the point of being insulting. It’s pseudo-profound at best; at worst it’s a one-upmanship of jaw-tightening clichés.
At least, these were my initial thoughts on leaving. The dialogue in this play is clunky and simplistic. I stand by that. Yet the ideas that are offered in The Shape of Things are interesting. The story begins with a museum employee (Adam) questioning an attractive woman (Evelyn) who crosses the line around a sculpture. She objects to the censorship of its penis, and intends to spray paint a new phallus where one should be. She explains that it’s an artistic act itself, and they get talking, and then they start to date. They are contrasted with another couple, uninterested in art and symbolic of Adam’s previous life. Things unravel and some questions are tossed into the air. What boundaries does art have? How does a relationship with art affect relationships with people? These questions are provocative but it must be pointed out that they’ve already been asked, the Oscar Wilde texts discussed in the play itself being important examples.
I’m not convinced by LaBute’s text, although many have been. However, this may have had something to do with this production. The performances from the men are lacklustre, flat and occasionally really quite odd, and not in a good way. The women are better but never impressive. Without the right energy in the exchanges LaBute’s banalities have no chance of being redeemed. A blackboard onto which a male figure is drawn and gradually added to as a visual aid to Adam’s metamorphosis is laughably unnecessary. Some might enjoy being introduced to the ideas in The Shape of Things, and you may have enjoyed the film, but this production fails to bring out whatever might be in the play.