Sunday, August 1, 2010

Off Off Broadway: The Shape of Things

Variations Theatre Group (VTG) was founded by Rich Ferraioli and Kirk Gostkowski less than a year ago and has achieved a great success with its first production, Neil LaBute’s The Shape of Things. Originally launched by VTG in April of this year in Long Island City, I missed it when it first opened there but, fortunately, VTG has now brought this production to the Access Theatre in Manhattan and this time I made sure to see it.

Wow! This is a very professional production of an excellent play. Originally staged in 2001 with Paul Rudd, Rachel Weisz, Gretchen Moi and Frederick Weller in the roles of four college students in a small college town and directed by Neil LaBute himself, the play was turned into a motion picture two years later with the same cast. The play has been reprised several times since and this latest incarnation starring Deven Andersen (Philip), Alice Bahlke (Evelyn), Kirk Gostkowski (Adam) and Melissa Haley Smith (Jenny) and directed by Rich Ferraioli is just about as good as it gets.

I won’t disclose the plot because I don’t want to deprive you of the pleasure I think you’ll get from the very well-crafted surprise ending. Suffice it to say that the play provides intriguing allusions to such classical themes as those depicted in Shaw’s Pygmalion, Shelley’s Frankenstein and Kafka’s Metamorphosis, the direction and acting are first-rate across-the-board, and the set design is more than serviceable.

This production augurs well for the VTG. It is a terrific multi-layered exploration of the limits of art, the development and manipulation of a young malleable personality, sociopathy, sexual obsession, loyalty and betrayal, reality and fantasy, objectivity and subjectivity. Try to get to see it if you can.

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