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A twisting ‘Shape of Things’

Tom Titus

On its surface, Neil LaBute’s “The Shape of Things” concerns itself

with two romances of mismatched college students, but there’s a good

deal going on beneath that surface.

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This West Coast premiere, at the Laguna Playhouse through June, has a

lot to say about relationships, but that’s just the warmup for a jarring

climactic sequence which, obviously, cannot be discussed here. Suffice

it to say that all is not what it seems, even though this phrase

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normally is employed to describe Agatha Christie mysteries.

The only mystery here is what these two couples see in each other.

Each pair contains one abrasive, dominant personality and one meeker,

more “normal” member, and audiences will be pulling for these latter two

to discover one another before either gets hurt.

Director Richard Stein has cast four performers who give off the

requisite sparks and create rich, full-bodied characters -- opposites

who attract one another, even though the male in one relationship would

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seem ideally suited to the female in the other. Secrets and lies abound,

with treachery raising its head in the highly charged finale.

The main couple are Evelyn (Stacy Solodkin) and Adam (Michael Eric

Strickland), who “meet cute” in the play’s opening scene. He’s a college

student working part time as a museum guard and she’s a young art

student about to deface a sculpture with a spray can -- to restore its

creator’s intent before censorship neutralized the work some years back.

Somehow, these two form a relationship, with the shy, relatively

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inexperienced Adam strongly attracted to the headstrong, anarchistic

Evelyn -- and amazed that she returns his feelings. Their genial

put-downs of one another come from different artistic genres which

neither recipient can comprehend. Under her influence, he gradually

sheds his nerdish accouterments and allows himself to be made over into

a more suitable lover.

Solodkin excels as the budding artist, seamlessly guiding the

reticent Strickland through a series of physical and emotional

alterations. Strickland relishes this onrush of romance, even though

there’s an element of yearning for his roommate’s fiancee -- who could

have been his a few years ago if he’d taken appropriate action.

Robyn Cohen gives this latter role an appealing, emotionally

perplexed quality, and what she’s doing with Jay Boyer’s Philip is

anybody’s guess. Boyer portrays his insensitive, almost ruthless

character splendidly, as a predator ready to strike at the first sign of

weakness.

Eventually, both relationships reach their breaking point, but one of

the four has a chilling valedictory that will outrage the audience. This

“gotcha,” from the fertile mind of playwright LaBute, is splendidly

orchestrated by director Stein and his fine foursome of players.

That “The Shape of Things” is giving its West Coast premiere in

Laguna Beach is quite appropriate, since the subject of art appreciation

is an integral part of the play. Laguna’s own artists will have a great

time dissecting this one.

CUTLINE: Michael Eric Strickland and Stacy Solodkin enjoy a romantic

moment in ‘The Shape of Things’ at the Laguna Playhouse.

CUTLINE: Jay Boyer (left) and Stacy Solodkin (second from right)

nearly come to blows as their significant others Robyn Cohen and Michael

Eric Strickland attempt to restore order in “The Shape of Things” at the

Laguna Playhouse. (Photos by Ed Krieger)

F.Y.I.

WHAT: ‘The Shape of Things’

WHERE: Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach WHEN:

Tuesdays through Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 and 8, Sundays at 2

and 7 until June 30

COST: $38 - $45

PHONE: (949) 497-2787


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