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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Material's weak, but young actors shine

Special to The Advertiser


The ARTS at Marks Garage

7:30 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through March 21


800-838-3006, www.artsatmarks.com

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The greatest uneasiness in "The Shape of Things" comes from the fear that yet another character will enter a scene and that they will all go on talking and talking . . .

Neil LaBute's 2001 examination of physical attractiveness plays an inflated and overwritten two hours, performed at the playwright's request without intermission. Mostly, we'd like the opportunity to verify that we get it and urge them to move on.

LaBute's dialogue plays like overheard conversations, offering acting opportunities to create authentic and nuanced characters, but adding the obligation to sustain tension and movement in scenes that could become commonplace and banal. The play also includes a spoiler ending, in which all things are made clear, but sadly not significant or profound.

The plot has Evelyn (Michelle Y. Hurtubise), a confident and articulate graduate student, encountering Adam (Ryan Wueste-wald), a nerdy undergraduate in English, at an art museum where he works part time as a security guard. She takes an interest in him, and during the course of the play, encourages him to undergo a physical and psychic makeover all of which is explained in that revelatory final scene.

There are the expected echoes of a reverse Pygmalion, questioning whether the artist has fallen in love with her own creation, and some tiptoeing around the story of Eden, suggesting that this contemporary Adam and Eve may have bit too deeply into the fruit of knowledge.

But the final public revelation seems not to produce much insight for Evelyn or Adam, and that lack of significance leads the playgoer to the unsatisfying conclusion of "so what?"

Nevertheless, the fledgling All the World's a Stage Theatre Company, with clear connections to the University of Hawai'i Theatre Department, gives the local theater community some welcomed exposure to a developing contemporary playwright LaBute's "Reasons to Be Pretty" played on Broadway just last year. It also showcases some promising young actors.

Wuestewald is delightful as Adam bumbles through the first scene of splintered dialogue using physical reaction and interrupted air stream to great effect. He effectively downplays his Cinderella transformation and so stoically internalizes his final emotions during Evelyn's final monologue that we find ourselves darting looks in his direction to check out how it may be registering.

Hurtubise is so cool and soap-opera calculating in her portrayal of Evelyn that we refuse to believe she is touched by the play's final scene, even when pushed to identify any single moment in her behavior that might have been real.

Michelle Boudreau and Reb Beau Allen fill out the cast as Adam's friends, mostly existing as pawns in the exercise to determine how far Adam will go to make himself acceptable.

"The Shape of Things" plays one more weekend, with a "pay what you can" Sunday performance.