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The Shape of Thingsby Neil Labute
Synopses & Reviews
A startling dissection of cruelty and artistic creation from the author of In the Company of Men and Your Friends and Neighbors
In a modern version of Adam's seduction by Eve, The Shape of Things pits gentle, awkward, overweight Adam against experienced, analytical, amoral Evelyn, a graduate student in art. After a chance meeting at a museum, Evelyn and Adam embark on an intense relationship that causes shy and principled Adam to go to extraordinary lengths, including cosmetic surgery, and a betrayal of his best friend, to improve his appearance and character. In the process, Evelyn's subtle and insistent coaching results in a reconstruction of Adam's fundamental moral character. Only in a final and shocking exhibition does Evelyn reveal the nature of her interest in Adam, of her detached artist's perspective and sense of authority--to her, Adam is no more than "flesh.... one of the most perfect materials on earth. Natural, beautiful, and malleable." Labute's latest work is an intense and disturbing study not only of the uses of power within human relationships, but also of the ethics involved in the relationship of art and life. To what extent is an artist licensed to shape and change her medium or to alter the work of another artist? What is acceptable artistic material? At what point does creation become manipulation, and at what point does creation destroy? Or, is the new Adam, handsome and confident if heart broken, an admirable result of the most challenging artistic endeavor? The Shape of Things challenges society's most deeply entrenched ideas about art, manipulation, and love.
"[LaBute] continues to probe the fascinating dark side of individualism, whose ultimate evil is an inability to imagine the suffering of others....LaBute's great gift is to live in and to chronicle that murky area of not knowing, which mankind spends much of its waking life denying. Where does truth end and fiction begin? Is the fiction more valuable than the truth? Do the results justify the means?" John Lahr, The New Yorker
"Neil LaBute's absolutely chilling report from the sex war's frontline....LaBute, the remarkable American movie director and playwright whose film IN THE COMPANY OF MEN showed a sexually unappealing woman exploited by two vengeful pretend lovers, now returns to this theme. This time it's a man who's the victim of female guile....LaBute meticulously plans that the shocking, climatic revelations should cast dark light upon his apparently average people." Nicholas de Jongh, The Standard (U.K.)
"[A] piece whose intricate layers of treachery are worthy of David Mamet..." Paul Taylor, The Independent
"LaBute is a smart, ambitious writer who, at his best, dares to explore the ambivalence hiding under the weave of our social fabric. He always has a serious intellectual project in mind, and here he aims at no less than the subjectivity of love and the definition of art itself. The Shape of Things is compulsively watchable." Gordon Cox, Newsday
"[A] gelatinous mess, full of ideas that never shape up into much of anything....LaBute lays his theories bare in a clunky, five-page monologue that's meant to shock, but we're already so convinced the characters are dim, nasty, and/or unappealing, there's little surprise in what amounts to a smirking LaBute trying to yank the tablecloth off the table while leaving the dishes intact." Kimberly Jones, The Austin Chronicle
"The enjoyment of [Labute's] films and of The Shape of Things is similar to that of a good horror movie; scary not just because of their outrageousness, but their whiff of possibility. We're frightened by the behavior of the characters, and when the show's over, the adrenaline still speeding through our systems, we go giggling off into the autumn night, trying to reassure ourselves that no one we know resembles one of LaBute's monsters." Kerry Lauerman, Salon.com
"[Labute is] the first dramatist since David Mamet and Sam Shepard — since Edward Albee, actually — to mix sympathy and savagery, pathos and power." Donald Lyons, The New York Post
"[I]nsupportable and insupportably bad — a nasty, brutish London import..." Clive Barnes, The New York Post
This drama peels back the skin of two modern-day relationships.
About the Author
Neil Labute's previous play, Bash, had its U.K. premiere at the Almeida, London, and was voted Critics' Choice for 2000 by Time Out. His other plays include Filthy Talk for Troubled Times, Sanguinarians & Sycophants, Rounder, Ravages, and adaptations of Woyzeck and Dracula. His films include In the Company of Men (for which he received the New York Critics' Circle Award for Best First Feature and the Filmmakers' Trophy at the Sundance Festival), Your Friends and Neighbors, Nurse Betty, and the forthcoming adaptation of A.S. Byatt's novel Possession.
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