By Manning Harris
Pinch ‘N’ Ouch Theatre’s latest offering is Neil LaBute’s play “The Shape of Things,” running through March 29.
This playwright likes to explore the netherworld that can sometimes be the playground for the male-female dynamic. Here we have a nice young man named Adam (Andrew Puckett) who’s an English literature major at Mercy College. Adam evidently has not had much success with the ladies, and he has a self-esteem problem (“I’m not anything”).
He says that to Evelyn (Tyner Rushing), whom he meets at a museum where he works. Evelyn is armed with a spray can and seems poised to “touch up” paintings that displease her. She is a graduate art student who is looking for a project; the project turns out to be Adam.
She indicates that she can “touch him up” with changes to his diet, dress, and exercise program—for starters. Evelyn is attractive and charming when she wishes to be, and Adam is not only putty in her hands but soon falls in love with her. The audience can see quite early that his affection is not returned.
Adam has two friends, Philip (Robby Glade) and Jenny (Morgan McGowen), a couple who have an easy, pleasant relationship with Adam. But Philip and Jenny do not fit into Evelyn’s program for Adam, and she soon pretty much destroys their relationship, in a surreptitious way that would do Iago proud.
But the character from theatre or film that Evelyn really reminds me of is Nurse Ratched, from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” You may recall that the sociopathic nurse practices humiliation, unpleasant medical treatments, and constant, daily suggestions/threats, yet she never really raises her voice. Evelyn is like that.
Director Sarah Hodges has cast the play superbly, especially with Ms. Rushing’s Evelyn. You may find yourself repulsed by her with very little trouble. No question, Tyner Rushing has nailed this part.
Andrew Puckett’s Adam is earnest, energetic, and rather pathetic, but you can’t help rooting for the guy. It’s like pitting Jason against Medea; you realize that with Evelyn, Adam is way out of his league. I think Mr. Puckett is an actor with an interesting future, if he chooses to remain on the boards.
Mr. Glade and Ms. McGowen offer excellent support; I believe Ms. McGowen was a bit under the weather when I saw her, but she carried on valiantly.
I suppose “The Shape of Things” is asking questions about the nature of art and relationships, but I find it somewhat undynamic, with one notable exception: When Evelyn “presents” Adam as her MFA thesis project, showing how (in her view) she has sculpted him into a more attractive human being, I wanted someone to grab a hook and yank her offstage. That’s a terribly powerful, affecting scene. You’ll see.
In directing her first full-length play, Sarah Hodges has acquitted herself admirably. Pinch ‘N’ Ouch, which has made its reputation with cutting edge pieces, continues to fascinate. I would imagine the whole energy of “The Shape of Things” has been ratcheted up since opening night; and that’s good.
For tickets and information, visit pnotheatre.org.