May 12, 2007

The shape of things

Holy cow! Go see this show!

Tonight I saw The shape of things, a bit of a psychodrama about a relationship between an art student and a kind of dorky lit major. It turned out to be one of those Studio gems that gives the mainstage shows a run for their money (not that we have a mainstage this term). Unfortunately, it had the lowest attendance I can remember for a studio show; maybe thirty or so. Really too bad. Hopefully more tomorrow.

Because the show was really really good. The cast of four were all veteran theatre folks, and not one of them could even briefly be accused of just reading their lines. Mike Callahan was fantastically awkward and dorky, especially at first; his quivering lip when confronted with a high-pressure situation was just spot-on. What's more, and this is even clearer in retrospect, a lot of his little dorky mannerisms and awkwardness and so on really comes and goes as the character development dictates. Mikah Berky played a fundamentally very nice girl, not always very sophisticated but always trying to make relationships right and not afraid to speak up when it came right down to it. A lot of her best acting was when other people were speaking; I loved the expressive gestures and facial expressions!

Matt Allis was playing a rather different type than usual—no, that's what I end up thinking every time I see him, and one of these days I'll just figure out that he's a versatile actor. :) This time, he leads off as a boorish, self-centered ass that starts arguments and swears a lot*, but later shows quite a bit more depth. In the last few scenes, the boorish thing starts to seem like more of a façade—not an act per se, but a shield that the character uses to defend himself against emotional hurt. As the emotional drama develops, he comes across as pretty vulnerable underneath it all.

Meghan Reardon plays the manipulative artiste who starts dating the dorky lit major, and like the other three, felt really authentic. A little odd sometimes, and mercurial, but authentic. As the relationship drama unfolds, she is frequently the most sympathetic character in the group, with only the slightly annoying quirk that she's always asking her guy to change his style. He seems pretty amenable to it, though, and takes well to working out and so on, so this quirk seems to be a minor, forgivable flaw.

The show was really well-written, and that helped, of course. All four characters are really strongly developed, and we get lots of chances to get to know them, with numerous scenes with just two of them in dialogue. The relationship psychodrama develops in some ways that border on cliché, but are no less suspenseful as a result. And the script would have been for naught if the acting hadn't been so good. I frequently caught myself holding my breath in tense sympathy for one or the other of the characters that is being wronged (or that is about to be wronged). At a few points (notably near the end) I suddenly intuited the mind game that (I thought) one of the characters was trying to play on another, and the weight of what they were doing would suddenly crash down on top of me, make my heart race, and knock the breath out of me. That's some great presentation right there.

As I write this, I'm struggling a bit with how to say what I want to say without outlining the plot in complete detail; later developments recast the earlier scenes in a rather different light. Suffice to say that the nuanced performance of this ensemble of four was such that it worked great the first time through, and then works even better when seen through the lens of hindsight and complete knowledge. Bravo!

I do wonder a bit if I'm really off-base on this, actually. For the first time I can ever remember, I was the only person standing during the applause. Since I try to reserve standing ovations for when I really mean it, I often find myself in the reverse situation, and I've on occasion been the first to stand or one of just a few. In this case, it could be that the audience was mostly made up of people as picky as I am about standing up. Also, many of them may have known the sequence of events and ending; Kelly Hogan commented that the show hit her a lot more the first time she saw it, and that it lost a little something on re-viewing. Which may well be the reason for the general audience reaction—I think a lot of them were theatre students (like I said, it was tragically sparsely attended), and they may have already read the play.

I don't have a lot to say about the relatively minimal tech, but I do want to say that the straight-overhead spot on Meghan right near the end makes her look positively beatific, and it's a really cool effect.

Overall, though? Fantastic show. I'm told it's Mike Giese's first full-length directorial gig, which makes it even cooler. A great show to try to put on, good effort all around, and, I'd say, success.

*And incidentally, the swearing in this show was much better than in the last few I've seen. At least three of the characters were swearing in various parts of the show, and I never caught that "I shouldn't be swearing in a public presentation" hesitation, at all.

"The web is NOT the best front end for every goddamned piece of information in the world." --Sam Walker

Posted by blahedo at 1:18am on 12 May 2007
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