‘The Shape of Things’ at Maryland Ensemble Theatre

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The Shape of Things, written by Neil LaBute and exceptionally directed by Steve Custer, is a brutally honest look at our modern roles in relationships and asks the question, “Where should society draw the line between art and life?”

When shy, geeky English lit student Adam begins dating a free-spirited, graduate art student named Evelyn, he quickly begins a complete physical transformation. His engaged friends and fellow students notice the positive lifestyle changes, but wonder whether the changes are his decision or Evelyn’s. Meanwhile, Evelyn’s definitions of “art” extend far beyond the classroom into her personal life, quickly clashing with Adam’s normal routine and closest friends

Giovanni Kavota was phenomenal as Adam. Easily undergoing the largest physical and emotional transformation in the show, Kavota was adorably awkward and gawky as nerdy student Adam.

Devin Gaither gave a stunning performance as Evelyn. As a rebellious free spirited artist and strong female lead, Gaither provided a very sharp contrast in her monologue near the end of the show when she revealed a cold and concise nature.

As the main couple in the story, Kavota and Gaither provided an excellent blend of romantic chemistry between sharply contrasted characters. Their timing was excellent, particularly in their opening and closing scenes to show the progression of the characters and their relationship.

Ian Hoch was very convincing as obnoxious friend Phillip. As the arrogant and confident guy you love to hate, Hoch did an excellent job in his supporting role. Emily Raines was sweet and sincere as Phillip’s fiance and Adam’s one time crush. Her attempted apology towards the end of the show was both heartbreaking and hilarious.

Several clever directorial and design choices enhance the production. The blocking is well suited to the in-the-round black box stage. An impressive choice was having Evelyn as the only character who remained seated during the first full cast scene which quickly turned into an argument. As the only strongly opinionated and opposing character, leaving Gaither seated while proving her point underscored the character’s growing command. And speaking of underscoring, the subtle musical underscoring by Matthew Ancarrow at several of the highest emotional moments in the show was a fantastic touch.

Center: Devin Gaither and Background: Giovanni Kavota (Adam). Photo courtesy of Maryland Ensemble Theatre.
Center: Devin Gaither and background: Giovanni Kavota (Adam). Photo courtesy of Maryland Ensemble Theatre.

The costume design is simple with each character in nostalgic 90’s fashions which are subtly appropriate to each character. As a clever nod to the college setting, the programs handed out before the show are designed to replicate a college course syllabus. Video projections by Jen Tonon portraying montages to show the passage time are used to great effect during scene changes. Projections of pieces of modern artwork are also cleverly used as set backdrops in the minimal black box design.

The Shape of Things is a sharply directed drama with exceptional performances which make the audience wonder if it really is best when art imitates life.

Running Time: One hour and 40 minutes, with no intermission.

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The Shape of Things plays through September 5, 2015 at Maryland Ensemble Theatre – 31 West Patrick Street, in Frederick, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 694-4744, or purchase them online.

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