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Review: Devil’s Thumb Shows Us Raw ‘Shape’

How many transgressions does artistic license cover? Neil LaBute’s 2001 script explores exactly this, with a sharp, modern feel that is bound to make you feel uncomfortable at some point in the evening. Adam is a shy college student before he meets Evelyn, a confident MFA student with strong views on what constitutes artistic expression. Although Evelyn turns off his friends, Adam is smitten, and forced to think about exactly how much of himself he’s willing to change for her.

LaBute Writes The Shape of Things in Raw Form

HE SAID:  In my eyes, this script is brilliant. There is an authenticity to each of the characters that allows you to go with the story wholeheartedly believing the people you are watching. Are they perfect people? Not at all. They make good choices and bad choices. They care for each other in moments and act purely selfishly in others. But can any one of us say that is not true about ourselves? None of LaBute’s characters in any of his works are perfect, but it is the level of complexity in each character that grounds them as honest – cruel, flawed, and honest. And it is because we believe them that the payoff in this show works. It forces us to reconsider everything we saw before it with a new understanding, while simultaneously making points about society’s affect on the individual, art, and perhaps the hypocrisy of our judgment. It can be a mind trip the first time you experience it in the a way that only theatre can provide.

SHE SAID: I totally agree with you that LaBute’s work is meant to be artfully realistic. And because it is so realistic, it’s really, really hard to pull off. For performers, it’s the ultimate challenge in being natural — almost like being one of the actors on a reality TV show where unsuspecting passers-by aren’t supposed to know you’re in on the joke. Watching LaBute is more like peeking through a crack in a bathroom stall at a couple having a fight for four hours. The cast in this production struggles a little bit to make the scripted ‘um’s and ‘uh’s read as spontaneous, which causes the production to suspend disbelief. This is usually a totally normal part of theater, but it is a small bit of distance that doesn’t always happen in LaBute.

Ensemble Struggles to Find Natural Rhythm

HE SAID: The language is tricky. There really is a musicality to the words, a rhythm that pull us through the piece, and I am not sure this cast ever clicked in the night we saw it. While the show didn’t drag any longer than it needed to, the piece never felt like it was clipping along. A large part of that, for me, was because of the staging. Most of the first few scenes were staged so that the actors were talking directly to each other in profile to the audience. I lost so much by just not being able to fully see anyone’s face. Obviously, it would be obnoxious to have the whole thing staged facing out, but the actors needed to cheat out a bit and the staging needed to be altered slightly. I think if that had been done, I would have connected a bit better with the piece overall.

SHE SAID : It’s funny, I didn’t notice that most of the scenes were in profile, but once you mentioned it, that’s totally true. It’s a tricky balance, since the characters are always intensely engaged with one another, I can see psychologically why you’d want them facing off for most of the time. But in this unique space (the attic of a church), where the stage is relatively narrow and the audience stretches back for a bit, it makes it somewhat problematic to stage it that way. Performance-wise, I think that Joan Dieter in the leading role of Evelyn did the best job of handling the language, both the natural quality of it and the musicality that you mention. I was especially impressed with her performance in the second to last scene, which was essentially her soliloquy. She kept me engaged the whole time, it moved along at the right pace, and I was totally with her throughout. It could have lasted even longer and I wouldn’t have minded at all.

Unique Space Used Artfully

HE SAID:  That monologue was the highlight for me in this production, as well. It pays off well in terms of the overall story and Dieter performed parts of it very well. In life, people are rarely one thing – cocky, bitchy, or even innocent – and with this script there is a danger of playing these people all one way leaving them feeling flat. While I appreciated Dieter’s take on the character, I would have liked to see some more complexity shine through, especially in the final two scenes. In fact, to me, there was more color available in all of the characters throughout the show. The unique space in the attic of the Wesley Chapel is also used creatively. The two monitors displaying paintings that helped set the scene for the piece we were about to see was very clever.

SHE SAID: I see what you mean, I think that all of the characters could have used a little more complexity, but there were also plenty of nice moments. The script is really strong, and so I think that audience members who have never been exposed to this sort of writing will still feel like the production is a welcome departure from what you typically see in a theater. The story really speaks for itself quite well, and I noticed that the other audience members were utterly sucked into it. I also really enjoyed the creative use of the space. The multi-purpose blocks that were used to create several locations were stacked to create a nude sculpture for the opening scene, and their placement in other scenes was a constant reminder of the shape of the human body. I also really appreciated the other characters physically joining the audience for the monologue we mentioned above.

Tell us what YOU SAID

Click the link to share your thoughts on this production or the show itself.

Devil’s Thumb Focuses on the Right Things

THEY SAID: We applaud Devil’s Thumb Productions, a relatively new theatre company based in Boulder, for offering a very complicated piece. We took note of several interesting choices the cast and design team made with the piece, although there were also several missed opportunities to really explore the depth of the piece and it’s characters. It is a brave thing to do – produce LaBute. A lot of people HATE his work because of how cruel it can be. Theatre companies risk alienating audiences by taking on such productions, but we are glad there are groups right here that are unafraid of asking us to look the ugliness of humanity in the face. Thank you, Devil’s Thumb, for joining that list.

For more information on The Shape of Things, see the wikipedia page. The Shape of Things plays through Feb 25 at the Wesley Chapel in Boulder. Click the banner above for tickets and more information.


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