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Artwork in Progress 

The play may be well-crafted or just a bit too crafty, and possibly both.

At the start of the play, Adam (Robert Facio), a shy, uncertain student working part time as a museum guard, comes upon an attractive, somewhat pugnacious young woman named Evelyn (J.R. Fader). She's standing next to a reproduction of Michelangelo's David with a can of spray paint in hand. This David has been emasculated by the museum committee " a fig leaf has been added to cover his private parts. A sculptor herself, Evelyn is going to make a statement by defacing the already defaced statue. Adam, in his well-meant, bumbling way, tries to dissuade her. Somehow he also gets up his nerve and asks for her phone number. She spray-paints it onto the lining of his old green coat.

What follows is a courtship with plenty of sex and talk of love. Light has finally shone into Adam's dim, lonely world. We can almost hear the score " not quite like a Fred Astair movie, but something with that sort of old-fashioned uplift. The trick is that we, the audience, are seduced by our own expectations as much as Adam is. Love, sweet love, seems to conquer all.

Well, maybe not quite all. There are some rough spots like the difficulties that set in between Adam and Evelyn and Phillip (Brian Collins) and Phillip's fiancé Jenny (Elizabeth Skinner). There also are heated arguments with Evelyn about the nature of art, particularly cutting-edge art. But these byways only make the love story seem more real. After all, love is a rocky road. Little do we suspect we are not in a romance at all, but a sort of horror story. LaBute aptly disguises the Transylvanian aspects of his tale. No shutters slam. No wolves howl. No one crosses themselves or breaks out strings of garlic.

The signs of trouble are more subtle. Adam is changing. He gives up his conventional hairdo for a spiky, hip fashion. He gets rid of his glasses for contact lenses. He pitches the old green jacket and gets a cool blue one. He jogs, exercises, loses weight, gains self-confidence and social grace.

Evelyn seems to push him into these changes, sometimes openly, sometimes subtly. For instance, she escorts him to a doctor to inquire about a thoroughly extraneous nose job. Despite Adam's initial reluctance, he undergoes the cosmetic surgery. Rather than own up to it, however, he claims the bandage is there because he fell and hurt his nose. Still more curiously, Evelyn videotapes their lovemaking.

The blond bundle of affection and eroticism avoids talking about her thesis, dismissing it as 'a sort of installation thingy."

Deeper and more destructive changes come in the form of incursions across the boundaries of the couples. Adam always had a crush on Jenny but never followed up on it. Now, the two give in to their feelings for each other, which creates havoc. Evelyn exploits the mess. She takes revenge on Adam by putting moves on Phillip. Finally, she agrees to take Adam back but only if he renounces his friendship with both Phillip and Jenny. He promises to do so.

All this romance and intrigue is what you might call the long slow curve. The fast break comes when Evelyn presents her installation thingy. She reveals that Adam himself provided her with 'two very pliable materials: human flesh and human will." She formed him and changed him. He is her sculpture, her creation. All the talk of love, all the sex was just a new sculptural technique " a way to shape a human being.

It's a bloodcurdling finish and a difficult story to accept. The question of emasculation that began the play seems to resurface. In fact, Adam berates Evelyn for 'dicking around with him." These two biblically named characters have transgressed in their postmodern way and been expelled from paradise. Under the direction of René Piazza, the cast gave graceful and convincing performances. A tip of the hat to Actor's Theatre for this chance to catch up on what's happening on the edgy side of contemporary theater.

click to enlarge Adam (Robert Facio), Evelyn (J.R. Fader), Phillip (Brian Collins) and Jenny (Elizabeth Skinner) are drawn into a strange form of performance art in The Shape of Things. Neil LaBute pulls a fast one in The Shape of Things, which recently got a spirited production at Actor's Theatre of New Orleans.
  • Adam (Robert Facio), Evelyn (J.R. Fader), Phillip (Brian Collins) and Jenny (Elizabeth Skinner) are drawn into a strange form of performance art in The Shape of Things. Neil LaBute pulls a fast one in The Shape of Things, which recently got a spirited production at Actor's Theatre of New Orleans.
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