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The art of sex and beauty


"You are so dangerously close to owning me," confesses enamored college student Adam to his self-proclaimed "artist" girlfriend Evelyn. Poor clueless Adam, he doesn't know just how emotionally treacherous his relationship is. Stunning and engaging, The Shape of Things by playwright Neil LaBute invests its audience in the tumultuous romance of the seemingly terminally geeky Adam and the striking Evelyn.

Director Ruth Childs, assistant professor of theatre at SUNY Brockport, writes about the play's themes, "What is love? What is art? Do we have the right to change other people's lives? Is it acceptable to manipulate someone for his or her own good? Why is our society so obsessed with the shape of things?"

Childs has made a brave choice in staging this play at the school, as it confronts controversial and sexually explicit topics. But it's a realistic choice too, as these themes are particularly relevant in the lives of college students, many of whom are investing themselves in the throes of similarly dramatic romances.

Complimenting Evelyn on her transformative effect on Adam, his friend Jenny swoons, "I think what you've done with Adam, it's really great." Adam's extreme makeover --- including weight loss, muscle sculpture, contact lenses, a suave new hairstyle, wardrobe reassignment, and even cosmetic surgery --- conspicuously occurs over his time spent with Evelyn. He is re-created from stereotypical nerd to GQ cover boy. Obsessed with Evelyn, Adam admits to his artist, "I'm doing it for you."

Liam Scahill, a senior theater major, turns in a realistic and hilarious performance as Adam. With natural timing, Scahill skillfully guides the audience through the oftentimes funny, but also shocking and provocative plot. He treats the play's profanity and sexual encounters with the respect they merit, asking the audience to understand their necessity in moving the play forward. His masterful delivery of the play's final confrontation confirms that Scahill is willing to confront the intense pain of his character without shame.

Blessed with the beauty and confidence to convince an audience that she could persuade a shy young man to fall blindly in love, Latonia A. Phipps presents a determined and aggressive Evelyn, a character unwilling to compromise her artistic vision no matter how morally objectionable society may deem it.

But her performance is eager in that the actress forgets to take the audience with her through her character's wide emotional range. In one moment Phipps' portrayal is calm and collected, and in the next she startles the audience with rage. But, her brilliant delivery of the play's surprise will satisfy.

Childs' direction successfully forces the audience to confront LaBute's play. People will leave the theater questioning society's obsession with beauty and wondering if they themselves are driven by the shape of things.

The Shape of Things is on stage Friday and Saturday, October 8 and 9, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, October 10, at 2 p.m. (sign-interpreted performance), at the Tower Fine Arts Center, SUNY Brockport campus. $10. 395-2787