Promising ‘Shape of Things’ overcomes its flaws

When you think of how little good drama there is in Vegas, it’s easy to overpraise a flawed but promising production like "The Shape of Things."

I had a great time at New American Theatre’s mounting of Neil LaBute’s 2001 London play. Yet, the more I thought about the experience, the more reserved my enthusiasm became.

Adam (Wayne Wilson), a young museum guard, is trying to stop Evelyn (Megan Bartle), an eccentric grad student, from defacing a sculpture. How they fall in love and how she winds up transforming this "geek" makes for much of the evening’s enjoyment.

But Evelyn is not what she seems. In fact, she makes "Network’s" Diana Christensen and "Fatal Attraction’s" Alex Forrest seem like playful puppies. The script is an unsettling look at the relationship between art and morality.

Director/set designer Gregg Curtis whizzes us by the sometimes slow first act with extensive use in a small space of video projections (that somehow feel right), rigging, lighting and sound.

The actors, though, remain the evening’s focus. Bartle’s a biting and troubling Evelyn: enormously attractive, affable, and yet full of dangerous airs. There’s something about her smile that tells you trouble lies ahead. She’s also one of the more naturalistic actors Vegas has seen in a while. (It is unfortunate, though, that her final scenes don’t reveal as much as they should of her almost murderous zeal for art.)

Erica Griffin is an easygoing actress, but her achievement here as Adam’s friend Jenny is that she’s able to suggest all the conflicting pain that her character undergoes, while forever trying to say all the right things.

There is a major problem with the male lead. Wilson has an extraordinary sense of comic timing enriched by a magnetic persona. But he uses his comic skills to bulldoze his way through his character, rather than bringing it to organic life. Too much of what he does seems to have nothing to do with what’s going on onstage. The central dramatic journey of the play is missing, because Wilson simply is not there. He needs a strong director to get him to occasionally go against the comfort of his instincts.

Still, it’s easy to admire Wilson’s unfocused skill, and Curtis’ wham-bam yet sensitive directing style.

And Bartle comes across as such a deliciously ice-veined goddess, that every heterosexual male in the audience may get a kick out of hating her.

I could swear I heard a young man thinking, "I was married to that once."

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at DelValle@aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

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