Unraveling the Complex Layers of Love
By Eric Marchese
The plays of Neil LaBute are stylistically and thematically akin to those of David Mamet.
LaBute's works like "In the Company of Men," "Bash: Latter-Day Plays," and "The Mercy Seat," similar to Mamet’s shows, can hit audiences pretty hard, provoking thought and prompting discussion and debate about the play’s characters and themes.
No Square Theatre’s Ella Wyatt has long wanted to direct the intense 2001 drama “The Shape of Things” after first reading it more than 20 years ago. This production gives her that opportunity – and a chance to share one of LaBute’s masterpieces with Orange County audiences.
The play, Wyatt said, takes place over the course of a semester at a liberal arts college in a small, unnamed university town in the Midwest. “Adam, an English literature major, meets Evelyn, an art major. He falls for her hard, and their relationship takes off quickly.”
“Shape” then follows the couple’s romantic activities and emotional involvement. Wyatt said that at the heart of the play is the question of how willing people are to do things in the name of love.
“Most people tend to change little things about themselves for their significant others or friends, but where is the line? How much is too much? These limits are tested by Adam and Evelyn, as well as Adam’s best friend, Phillip, and his fiancée, Jenny.”
The play premiered in 2001 at the Temporary Almeida Theatre at King’s Cross in London. LaBute directed the production, which starred Paul Rudd as Adam, Rachel Weisz as Evelyn, Gretchen Mol as Jenny, and Fred Weller as Phillip. LaBute then adapted the script for the screen and directed the original four actors reprising their roles for the 2003 film version.
It’s been said that the character names of Adam and Evelyn are a direct reference to the story of the Garden of Eden. Wyatt comments that “the story definitely follows the idea of woman as temptress, although I truly believe that all of these characters are flawed. It can be easy to point a finger and decide who is to blame for what happens in the play, but just as it was in the Garden of Eden, Adam has free will to make his own decisions.”
Wyatt said she first read the play in 2001 while in college, “and it immediately became my favorite play. I have dreamed of either being in it or directing it ever since. One of my favorite things about the show is that I have read it countless times, and yet I still have new thoughts and revelations about it.”
Wyatt said the Laguna company will impart “some character things that we have discussed as a cast that will be brought into the portrayals of the characters that are not necessarily noted in the script. Our very intimate setting is very unique. I think it’s the perfect show for our space.”
In addition to directing, Wyatt is the production’s set designer. She’s joined by costume designer Brigitte Harper, lighting designer Blake Huntley, and stage manager Morgan Plass.
As to why Wyatt took on the set design herself rather than tap someone else, it was “because I know the No Square space and some of our resources (and) I was pretty certain of how we could do it easily.”
She calls the design “fairly simple” yet notes that “it covers a lot of locations,” including an art museum, a bedroom, an auditorium, and a coffee shop. “Each scene is a new location,” and none of the scene locations are repeated, “so I have to make sure it’s clear where we are.”
“I tried to keep the set simple so the sets can easily be switched around while still making the play interesting. I have various moving walls and set pieces like couches, a bed, and tables that come in and out.”
“The opening scene takes place in an art museum, and I am actually working with the Laguna Art Museum to use some of their pieces in that scene. Also, Laguna is an art town, so I think that is really fitting.”
Wyatt said that during casting, the overriding quality she was seeking in actors “was truthfulness. In a small space, and with a serious, yet still funny, show like this, the actors really need to be believable in a more grounded and realistic way than in larger spaces.”
“The audience is right there, so anything too over-the-top can come across as cheesy, and I don’t want that.”
Dane Hobrecht is cast as Adam and Abigail Cox as Evelyn, with Griffin Glenn as Phillip and Kristin Cortines as Jenny. Wyatt said she worked with Hobrecht and Cortines in No Square’s summer, 2022, production of “Footloose.”
She expects the performances to lead audiences “to some amazing discussions on life and art and how the two are connected.”
LaBute, Wyatt said, “is known for writing plays that will leave the audience questioning what is right and what is wrong, and this show is no different. Dealing with themes of love, art, and what happens when the two collide, and ending with a punch to the gut, this show will definitely lead to great discussions for the ride home.”
Eric Marchese has written about numerous subjects over more than 38 years as a freelance and staff journalist for a wide variety of publications, but is best known as a critic, feature writer and news reporter covering theatre and the arts throughout Orange County and beyond.
‘The Shape of Things’
No Square Theatre
384 Legion Street, Laguna Beach, 92651
October 6-15, 2023
(949) 715-0333, www.nosquare.org