Basement Arts’ 'The Shape of Things' explores the nature of art and relationships

Sunday, October 29, 2017 - 5:06pm

Drama students and teachers filled the Newman Studio in Walgreen Drama Center on Friday night with chatter and excitement as they waited to support their peers and students in “The Shape of Things,” a play written by famous playwright and filmmaker Neil LaBute. “Stacey’s Mom” by Fountains of Wayne played softly in the background while the stage, a blank canvas with merely a plastic sheet, a pure white block and a glistening white rope, waited to be ornamented with human bodies and feeling. The lights faded to dark, and the story unfolded.

“The Shape of Things” is a play that explores the fallacies and intimacies of seemingly ordinary college relationships. As the characters blur the line between art and pure insanity, the play makes a bold statement about how we define art. The four-person cast of Basement Arts’ production of “The Shape of Things” took the challenge of delving into this heavy content.

SMTD senior Kourtney Bell did a great job in embodying the character of Evelyn, a Visual Art major at a Midwestern college and a manipulative and conniving love interest of Adam. She wins the trust and sympathies of the audience by convincing them that she was the victim of every obstacle in their relationship. Bell exquisitely executes the complete 180 degree turn of her character to one of deceit and complete manipulation. The audience was stunned at her frightening turn of disposition. In fact, a girl sitting next to me expressed her deep sense of hatred, saying she would really like to punch that character in the face.

SMTD senior Sam Bell-Gurwitz successfully personated the awkwardness and charm of his character, Adam. This awkwardness initiated moments of comedy throughout the play, which felt natural and relatable. Bell-Gurwitz evoked the image in the minds of the audience of an ordinary, quirky everyday person, making his performance personal and realistic. Throughout the play, Adam goes through a transformation facilitated by Evelyn. Although his physical character notably changed, it was difficult to pinpoint the metamorphosis of his personality by the end of the play. Bell-Gurwitz maintained the same awkward charm throughout the play, leading to little contrast in the transformation that his character supposedly underwent.

It was easy to pick up on the nuances of the plot and the characters, which positively reflects the actors’ skills in deliverance. However, sometimes moments fell short because of the simplistic choices of the actors. The opening scene proved to be confusing, as it presented an unusual situation with ambiguous characters. Seeing as it was the first time the audience was introduced to these characters, it was almost impossible to pinpoint the purpose and the characters’ dispositions. As the play continued, the four actors settled into their characters more and connected more with the audience.

The simplistic set created a blank slate for the actors to play on. The lighting ambiance did not distract the audience from the plot and the complexity of the play. It allowed the audience to give their full attention to the command of the actors and to the overtones of the plot. Even when the play was set in upscale art studios, only plain white blocks were presented, allowing the audience to envision their own form of art on a pedestal. This choice exhibits a common theme presented throughout the play: Art is subjective.

When the studio faded to black, signaling the end of the play, the audience was exhausted from going through the ups and downs of the relationships and the constant reflection of the nature of art. They were left with a million thoughts and questions, suspended in their minds, left unanswered.