The Art for Art’s Sake Movement initiated in a discussion by 19th Century French philosopher, Benjamin Constant, recorded in Journal intime, “L’art pour l’art without purpose, for all purpose perverts art. But art attains the purpose that it does not have.” The argument regarding the purpose of art: to exist to lead to itself; to invoke a sensation; to provide a subject study; to redefine perspective; to express that which cannot easily be said in words; etc. has been debated for centuries and is one of the themes for Neil LaBute’s contemporary drama, The Shape of Things. LaBute’s anti-heroine, Evelyn, comments about art, “Difference is good, great, vital even. Only indifference is suspect.” The debate of whether, art is provocative, to make a particular statement; or demonstrative, as merely art for art’s sake; takes on a unique meaning in this strategically crafted play. And upon seeing Variations Theatre Group’s production of LaBute’s work, the audience is left with strong feelings about art and humanity.
Variations Theatre Group (VTG) presented The Shape of Things in April 2010, at The Secret Theatre in Long Island City, as part of its debut season. In a return engagement, the ambitious company, under the leadership of co-founders, Rich Ferraioli and Kirk Gostkowski, has remounted the production at the Access Theater, near Canal Street, through August 7, 2010. Under the taught direction of Rich Ferraioli, the ensemble cast of twenty-somethings, create a tumultuous atmosphere for the exploration of the human condition.
LaBute’s drama begins in an art museum and follows Adam (Kirk Gostkowski) and Evelyn’s (Alice Bahlke) blossoming boy meets girl relationship through the friendship of Adam’s college roommate, Phillip (Deven Anderson), and his fiancée, Jenny (Melissa Haley Smith). Director, Ferraioli, has artfully led the masked audience, through Adam’s naïve point of view, through the course of the seemingly simplistic plot developments to a startling revelation. Ferraioli’s choice to intimately focus our attentions on the familiarity and predictability of the relationships juxtaposes this naked exposure with greater perspective.
Alice Bahlke conceives a playfully caustic and scintillating female anti-heroine, Evelyn. Kirk Gostkowski, as the unsuspecting boyfriend, Adam, portrays the frumpy, solitary youth with likeable charm. From his sunken posture in the beginning, to his erect, proud stature at the end, Gostkowski constructs his physical body language with practiced intention to justify choices throughout his character’s journey. Melissa Haley Smith, as Jenny, voices the good natured, all-loving friend with a light, melodic tonal quality that fittingly opposes Bahlke’s deeper, resonant speech. Deven Anderson personifies the arrogantly demonstrative Phillip with proper swagger and disdain.
Aptly using the facility’s ample open space for the beautifully minimalistic set, designer, R. Allen Babcock distinctly highlights the art exhibition themes in the play. The decoratively painted blue marble tiling on the floor draws the design together, accenting the cold undertones of LaBute’s dialogue. (Scenic Art by: Stephanie Ferraioli and India Quimby; Assoc. Design by: Tracy Hussey.)
Variations Theatre Group instinctually crafts intelligent theater that investigates the art and the truth of the human condition. The emerging company’s 2010 production of Neil LaBute’s The Shape of Things, is skillfully performed and cleverly developed. These artists will be promising to watch, rising on the NY Off-Off Broadway Theatre circuit.
Alice Bahlke as Evelyn
Kirk Gostkowski as Adam
Melissa Haley Smith as Jenny
Deven Anderson as Phillip
Rich Ferraioli (Director)
R. Allen Babcock (Scenic Designer)
Christopher Weston (Lighting Designer)
Carolyn Scaringello (Stage Manager/Board Operator)
Stephanie Ferraioli and India Quimby (Scenic Artists)
Tracy Hussey (Associate Designer)
For Tickets: Ovation Tickets by Phone: 866-811-4111 or ovationtix
July 28th, 29th, 30th, 31st
August 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th at 8PM
Matinees on July 31st and Aug 7th AT 2PM