Written by Bradley Bommarito
On Wednesday, Feb. 21, Theatre Roanoke College’s winter production, “The Shape of Things,” premiered in Olin Theater. The play ran through Saturday night.
“We have had an enthusiastic response from the students, but there have also been many local adult theatre-goers. I sat with the audience every night and watched the audiences gasp, snap approval, get the jokes, and react openly to the characters. It has been fun watching them react to our work,” said Dr. Lisa Warren, director of “The Shape of Things” and associate professor of fine arts at Roanoke.
The college’s production is an adaptation of American playwright Neil LaBute’s critically acclaimed screenplay. LaBute is the author of many works for stage and screen, including “Autobahn,” “In The Company of Men,” and “The Mercy Seat.”
“How far would you go for love? For art? What price would you be willing to pay? Neil LaBute’s ‘The Shape of Things’ will challenge your ideas about art and love and continue ‘his fascination with the power games men and women play,’” wrote a New York Post columnist.
Warren said Theatre Roanoke College selected this play for production because it presented new opportunities and challenges for the program. Additionally, it contained relatable subject matter.
“I normally choose plays because they provide active learning opportunities for students, and I chose ‘The Shape of Things’ because it offered challenging roles for the actors and because the characters are college students. I hoped it would resonate with RC students, and I think it did. I also chose it as a contrasting style to the play I did in the fall, ‘The Trickeries of Scapin,’” said Warren.
The cast and production crew enjoyed the unique challenges of the play. They worked tirelessly to make the play successful.
“This has been by far my favorite play that I’ve been a part of,” said junior Katie Soper, who played the lead role as Evelyn. “This was my fifth play at Roanoke and it was such an amazing experience. The script is so dense with internal monologue, which made it a challenge to perform, but also just that much more interesting,”
The four actors spent many hours memorizing lines and rehearsing.
“The rehearsal process was broken down into a lot of one on one time with the character relationships,” said Soper. “The personal connection each of us had to our characters was very important. Dr. Warren made sure that we found an understanding of ourselves in the characters we were playing,”
“To prepare for this play, we rehearsed almost every day from 7 until 10 p.m.,” said junior Kimberly Dalton, who played Jenny. “Actors were also expected to work on lines outside of rehearsal in order to have memorization down by the week before tech week. There was a lot of experimenting with blocking and tone to make sure that pacing and staging worked as well as it could.”
Perhaps the most time-consuming challenge consisted of mastering the emotional nuances of the complex characters.
“Playing Evelyn was a very unique experience, I haven’t had to opportunity to play such a manipulative character before, so it was quite thrilling to feel out that role,” said Soper. “While Evelyn’s actions are undoubtedly heartless, I do truly believe that she is not entirely evil, she was simply caught up in the fantasy of it all. I think that to portray any ‘evil’ character truthfully, you have to find the glimmer of goodness that they have. Very few characters are innately bad, and if you portray them in such a flat way the audience isn’t able to fully commit to and understand the character.”
Dalton offered a few more details about her character, Jenny.
“Jenny is timid and shaped by her gender role; she dislikes confrontation and vulgarity, making her quiet and a bit of a prude,” she said. “She’s very sweet, although she does make some not-so-great decisions. One of my favorite parts of playing this character was being engaged in her development from doormat to a woman with a backbone; she really learns to advocate for herself. I don’t have a lot in common with Jenny except for nervousness when it comes to defending oneself, but I’ve gone through similar self-discovery periods in my life and was therefore able to slip into her shoes.”
The stage design for this production was a noteworthy departure from tradition. Production members decided on a minimalistic setup that correlated with the play’s themes, in addition to an on-stage seating arrangement.
“I am very pleased with the final results,” said Warren. “The on-stage seating was a new design by Technical Director/Set Designer, Rob Bessolo, and it worked beautifully. His simple design allowed the focus to be on the acting, and it also worked with our concept that each scene was actually an event that would have been part of Evelyn’s final project, so it made sense to have those scenes take place on the display pedestals eventually used in her project. Jenny Ruhland’s costumes brought color and helped delineate the characters.”
“The Shape of Things” explores themes involving art, the subjectivity of truth, and morality.
“I found myself agreeing with a lot of Evelyn’s comments on art,” Dalton said. “I think the play is an interesting thought experiment about where the boundaries are in art and whether or not there are any. At its core, art is a subjective medium, and there is a lot of debate about the subjectivity of morality; when the two come together it creates an interesting grey area which came alive through these characters.”
Roanoke’s next production, “An Evening of Albee,” premieres on April 11 at 7:30 p.m. It will run through April 14. It includes two one-act plays by playwright Edward Albee. They are “The American Dream.” a dark comedy, and “The Zoo Story,” a gripping drama about a bizarre confrontation in New York’s Central Park.
All productions are free to RC students. Adults can purchase tickets for $7 at the RC Box Office in Olin Hall or online at Eventbrite.com. Senior and student tickets cost $5. Members of the community are encouraged to attend to support future theater productions.