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Manbites Dog Theater Preview: The Shape of Things Asks Some Disturbing Questions

February 1, 2003 - Durham, NC:


Manbites Dog Theater presents The Shape of Things, a disturbing new drama about power and ethics written by Neil LaBute and directed by Jay O'Berski, from Jan. 30 to Feb. 16 in its theater in Durham, North Carolina. In this story of the romantic relationships of four oversexed 20-somethings, the strong shamelessly exploit the weak and the playwright asks, Just how far would they go for love? For art? And what is art anyway?

The Shape of Things premiered in London in May 2001. It drew warm applause from audiences and theater critics alike.

"LaBute is the most gifted, intelligent and wittily moral American playwright since Wallace Shawn," declares Michael Coveney of the Daily Mail. "[T]hat is high praise, believe me. And this play marks his theatrical maturity. It's a must see."

"What is art?" asks Paul Taylor in The Independent. "What are you permitted to do in its name? ... These questions are thrown up by a piece whose intricate layers of treachery are worthy of David Mamet...."

Neil LaBute is a hot new director, playwright, and screenwriter. Raleigh Ensemble Players produced his deeply disturbing three-act drama, Bash, last year. And LaBute's intense scripts for the films In the Company of Men and Nurse Betty have left his audiences shaken and stirred.

Amazon.com summarizes the plot of The Shape of Things as follows: "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.'"

Shakespeare & Originals founder and artistic director of Jay O'Berski will stage The Shape of Things for Manbites Dog, where he recently directed a critically acclaimed production of Love's Labours Lost for Shakespeare & Originals. O'Berski previously starred in Manbites Dog's productions of The Baltimore Waltz, Execution of Justice, Lonely Planet, and The Mystery of Irma Vep.

The cast for The Shape of Things will include Blaine Barbee, Vince Eisenson, Daniel Smith, and Meghan Valerio. Lissa Brennan will design the costumes, and Erik Niemi will serve as videographer for the production.

"Any shrewd chap who finds his artist girlfriend has a video-camera in the bedroom to film the cut and thrust of their sexual action might well fear he was destined to end up as her artistic fodder," writes Nicholas de Jongh in The Standard. "But in The Shape of Things, Neil LaBute's absolutely chilling report from the sex war's frontline, where stratagems for sexual humiliations are planned, Adam, the shy chap concerned, takes the video-camera, so to speak, lying down. 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...."

John Lahr of The New Yorker claims, "[Neil 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?"

Manbites Dog Theater presents The Shape of Things Saturday, Feb. 1, at 8:15 p.m.; Sunday, Feb. 2, at 3:15 p.m.; Thursday-Sunday, Feb. 6-8 and Feb. 13-15, at 8:15 p.m.; and Sunday, Feb. 9 and 16, at 3:15 p.m. in Manbites Dog Theater, 703 Foster St., Durham, North Carolina. $10 Thursday and $15 Friday-Sunday. 919/682-3343. http://www.manbitesdogtheater.org/2/.