I took advantage of an opportunity to attend last night’s performance of Neil LaBute’s “The Shape of Things” at Main Stage West in Sebastopol. LaBute is an acquired taste, as he work tends to highlight the negative aspects of human behavior in all its shocking glory. One often leaves a LaBute play with conflicted emotions. On one hand, you feel an appreciation for fine acting – if you’re lucky and the performers do justice to his well written dialogue. On the other hand, you often leave with a profound sense of sadness after spending two hours watching incredibly narcissistic people rip each other to shreds.
That’s exactly how I felt after seeing this production. Anchored by strong, committed lead performances by Keith Baker and Jennifer Cote and with solid support from Dana Scott and John Browning, “The Shape of Things” examines the internal and external changes one chooses to make (whether on one’s own or through the influence of others) in the pursuit of love.
Sounds quaint, right? Hardly. The journey these characters take from their first “meet-cute” to the inevitable climactic human train wreck that follows will have you laughing heartily at the beginning and cringing mercilessly by evening’s end.
That some very nice actors (several of whom I know) could realistically portray such shits is a testament to their acting and David Lear’s direction. Lear also did the set design and does some very creative things with the relatively small amount of space available at Main Stage West. I had a big problem, however, with one specific design choice.
An early scene is set outside a theatre where the two leads await the arrival of friends. The “theater” is represented by two posters and a door. One poster is for “Medea”, which the dialogue references and is probably a LaBute in-joke. The second poster was for Main Stage’s next production – “Exit the King”. While the setting of the play is never made clear (a small college town? New York?), I’m pretty damn sure it wasn’t set in Sebastopol, California. There are plenty of ways for MSW to advertise their upcoming shows, as the large posters throughout the lobby and program advertisements demonstrate. This needless, local injection into the environment that everyone on and offstage worked so hard to create felt cheap and tacky, and actually took me out of the world of the play for quite some time. Surely this wasn’t the intent, but it was the result for me. Thankfully, by play’s end I had been drawn back in. Please, MSW, think twice before violating a play’s integrity this way again.
With that one caveat, if you’re looking for an evening of theatre with top-notch acting and with subject matter bound to lead to some heavy post-performance discussion, I encourage you to check out one of “The Shape of Things” last two performances.
The Shape of Things
Saturday @ 8pm or Sunday @ 5pm
Main Stage West
104 N Main St
Sebastopol, CA 95472