From the day Eve handed Adam the apple because she was convinced he was a few watts shy of a night light, life in the garden headed downhill in a hurry. Fast forward several thousand years to the fictional campus of Mercy College somewhere in the Midwest: A determined Evelyn charms diffident Adam and, like his namesake, life will never be the same.
Playwright Neil LaBute’s insightful and intriguing one-act play opened March 4 at Brüka Theatre of the Sierra. Adeptly directed by Stacy Johnson, this fast-moving production takes a hard look at manipulative relationships and perverse ideologies. And in LaBute’s drama, ideology takes a dark turn. No, this play isn’t about religion but LaBute’s allusions to Eden archetypes, or perhaps stereotypes, are helpful to understand where “The Shape of Things” is headed.
As the 95-minute romantic dramedy opens, Evelyn, played chillingly by Jamie Woodham, is about to deface the statue of a nude whose private parts are hidden by a leaf cluster. Actually, she’s going to spray paint a penis to protest the plaster leaves that were added to the statue in the interest of decorum. Enter timid Adam (Ian Sorenson), a student who works part time as a security guard. They begin a delightful repartée about art, astrological signs and their majors. Everything appears charming and rosy in the metaphorical garden of flirtation. Then Evelyn’s personality turns on a dime as she tells Adam, “that’s what I don’t like, your insecurities.” And it is precisely what Evelyn doesn’t like that shapes their imminent romance.
It’s not as though Adam is completely unaware of Evelyn’s intrigues. His in-your-face buddy Phillip (Ryan Kelly) mocks the changes to Adam’s physical appearance. And sweet-natured Jenny (Sophie Moeller) reveals she was always attracted to the original version. But neither seems able to undo Evelyn’s sociopathic allure.
If you haven’t been to the Brüka Theatre before, you’ll love the coziness of the comfy couches and homey feel. It’s like watching a performance in the intimacy of one’s home. The stage is small, yet I’m gratified at the inventiveness of the set designer to create a sense of openness. Projections on a stage panel effectively change the backdrop, and music between scenes emphasizes a definite break. Kudos for technical creativity.
Anagnorisis — remember the word as you watch this superior production. It’s a dramatic device that means everything you believed about a character gets turned upside down. Oedipus’ wife turns out to be his mother. Luke Skywalker discovers Darth Vader is his father. Truth is unmasked. Watch for it and be amazed. Sorry, I can’t tell you where anagnarisis happens. You’ll just have to see this provocative play to find out…and you definitely should. “The Shape of Things” is a superbly directed play interpreted by a fine cast of emotive and true-to-character actors that will leave you slack jawed as you head to the nearest coffee shop to hash out what you just witnessed. Four fig-leaf-adorned stars.
What: “The Shape of Things”
Where: Brüka Theatre of the Sierra, 99 N Virginia St, Reno
When: Through March 26
By Galen Watson