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ISSUE 117 VOL 14 PUBLISHED 3/19/2004

Shape finely crafted

By Lauren Hoffman
Contributing Writer

Friday, March 19, 2004

With its latest production, Neil Labutes "The Shape of Things," the St. Olaf theater department did it yet again  put on another stellar, yet terribly depressing, performance. The play, directed by Maren Bush '04, ran March 10-13 in Haugen Theater.

"The Shape of Things" told the story of the relationship between Adam, played by Christian Cooper 06, and Evelyn, played by Alexis Blake 04. After meeting Adam at an art gallery, Evelyn began a flirtation that seemed sweet and innocent at first, but ended as a cautionary tale about the role of deceit, betrayal and manipulation in relationships. A play that began as a sweet love story ended one nose job, 25 lost pounds, a good deal of sex, one inappropriate tattoo and a few affairs later, with Adam betrayed and all of his insecurities on display  literally.

The ensemble cast, rounded out by Tom Borger 06 and Stephanie Polt 06, was surprisingly strong. Some highlights of the acting were Coopers wonderfully awkward mannerisms, Blake's intelligent portrayal of a character who was both villainous and sympathetic, and the contrast of Polts shy girlfriend to Borgers domineering boy-friend.

The humor of the plays first act was so well played that the audience could easily have been lulled into a false sense of security, causing the biting darkness and abject depression of the plays finish to come as a bracing shock. Audience members should be warned, however: never be lulled by St. Olaf theater productions  they almost always end in sadness. "The Shape of Things" was a play that left audience members thinking, with the ending causing viewers to reevaluate everything that came before.

Bushs blocking made innovative use of the Haugen Theater space. She chose to stage the action in the center of the theater with the audience seated on either side, a bold and interesting choice that was effective, but that at times made visibility problematic. The production also utilized slides projected onto a blank wall both as visual transitions and as scenery, a creative use of the space that was occasionally confusing due to technical difficulties. Overall, however, Bushs direction was outstanding.

Bush chose to direct this piece because she felt the themes it presented would resonate on the St. Olaf campus. "I loved that the play deals with interpersonal relationships on a small midwestern college campus, and that it raises themes that this campus needs to be aware of  22-year-olds getting married, isolation, body image, manipulation, the line between ethics and art," Bush said.

While she acknowledged the challenges inherent to being a student director, such as balancing schedules and being both an authority and a peer, Bush said she loved and grew from the experience. "Ive learned what the theater can do, and the power of its message, and Im very grateful to all the people with whom I got to collaborate on this project," she said.

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