TURLOCK -- Full disclosure: One of my favorite movies is 2003's "The Shape of Things," about an unlikely relationship between a nerdy gallery security guard and a beautiful, sharp-witted artist.
I always wished some local theater would stage the 2001 Neil LaBute play and I was thrilled when I saw California State University, Stanislaus, theater department added the show to its schedule.
I wasn't disappointed when I saw its sophisticated, funny and more than a little shocking production. Director Eric Broadwater's staging begins with a huge attention grabber the lights go up on the four cast members standing naked in an artistic pose as if they were ancient Greek statues.
Yes, this isn't a family-friendly show. There's no more nudity, but the show is filled with foul and sexually suggestive language.
But the story is engaging from start to finish and the ending is one of the bigger twists in theater.
The nerdy security guard Adam (Michael Souto) meets the artist Evelyn (Shelby Baker) when she comes in his gallery holding a spray can and casually announces that she wants to deface a statue. Adam is intrigued by her brashness and her looks and gets up the courage to ask her out.
Soon Evelyn has begun a campaign of improving Adam. She has got him exercising, eating better and wearing more stylish clothes. Adam wonders why she's giving him so much attention but he's so head over heels, he doesn't ask many questions.
His friends, Phillip (Cullen Vance) and Jenny (Desire Moore), are impressed with his life makeover but are wary of Evelyn. Tensions rise, putting Adam uncomfortably in the middle.
The play offers some great food for thought about the relationship between appearance and morality. As Adam becomes more attractive to society, his morals suffer and he starts doing things he never would have done before.
Souto's Adam is immensely likeable with a self-depreciating sense of humor a la Woody Allen. He's a smart English major with an admiration for Evelyn's intelligence. Baker owns the stage as Evelyn, filling the room with her presence and supreme confidence. She's always got a smile on her face, knowing that she can get Adam to do pretty much anything she wants.
Vance is natural talent who makes acting look easy. His Phillip is sarcastic and quick, ready to destroy anyone who doesn't agree with his views. Moore's Jenny is the sweetest character in the show.
There were some forgotten lines and moments of overacting but overall, the actors performed at a professional level.
If you're in the mood to see a play that will get you to think and keep you off balance, buy tickets to "The Shape of Things."
Bee arts writer Lisa Millegan Renner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2313.
'THE SHAPE OF THINGS'
RATING: *** 1/2
WHERE: Studio Theatre, California State University, Stanislaus, One University Circle, Turlock
WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday
RUNNING TIME: 2 hours, no intermission
TICKETS: $10 general, $9 seniors, faculty and staff and $7 students
INFORMATION: (209) 667-3166 or www.csustan.edu/theatre
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