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Davis, California

Thursday, July 18, 2024

Modern love


“The Shape of Things” explores representations of love

Love stories in plays can often verge on the melodramatic; it seems we all know the type — conflicting emotions personified in a climatic screaming match and an emotional reconciliation at the conclusion.

The Shape of Things, a contemporary play written by Neil LaBute coming to the UC Davis Theater Department, however, is a more accurate representation of modern love.

“It’s a relatable play with human interactions and social situations and moral dilemmas,” said Taylor Church, a third-year theater and dance major who plays the co-lead role of Adam. “It’s super relatable.”

Similarly, according to Melissa Cunha, a fifth-year dramatic arts and film studies double major, who plays the other lead role of Evelyn, the show is unique in that the UC Davis Theater Department rarely does “normal productions that involve similar situations that students go through.”

Even more relatable to the student body, The Shape of Things is the second performance in the Theater Department’s Second Season, which started this year. Productions in Second Season are entirely student-acted and student-produced.

“With Second Season, everything is really a learning basis,” said Gregory Holmes, director and fourth-year theater and dance major. “A lot of us have worked on shows but have never been in a head or leading position, so we don’t usually have this much creative control.”

Having a more active and leading role in putting on a production has been a learning experience for Holmes.

“This is my first experience directing, since I’m usually an actor,” Holmes said. “I learned about directing by watching other directors and reading a lot of books, but also by just doing it. I learned from a lot of mistakes. Communication is a big thing I had to learn […] as a director, you are involved with both sides of production — you have to also talk to the people in charge of costumes, the [public relations] and the production manager, to name a few. I also had to learn how to find boundaries when talking to the actors, since a lot of them are my friends and peers.”

Despite navigating a new dynamic as director, Holmes was discerning when choosing the actors of the four-person cast.

“[Neil LaBute’s] writing isn’t very sugar coated,” Holmes said. “The play is about changing in a relationship and how it affects people around them and how love makes you do anything, whether that is love for a person or a passion. I was looking for actors who could be casual and pull it off. A lot of the scenes are intimate with just two people on stage. It’s nothing like Shakespeare where there are people dying from sword battles — it’s a lot of moments of intimacy and honest moments of confrontation that don’t involve fist fights. These are moments of real relationship problems and I needed actors who could understand and recreate that.”

The complicated role of Adam needed an especially talented actor, according to Holmes.

“I see this play about a young man [Adam] who gets a little bit over his head when it comes to love,” Holmes said. “When someone is searching for something too long, and once they have it, they go a little too overboard. I think too much love can be dangerous.”

However, for Church, getting the part of Adam was out of the norm of characters he usually plays.

“I usually get roles that require me to be more of the ‘asshole’ type of character,” Church said. “My character in The Shape of Things is way different — he is this introverted and dorky guy, so it has been interesting trying to tune out all of my other experiences. I went into auditions thinking I would get the asshole role because [Holmes] knows that that’s what I usually do and can do it well. He wanted to challenge me to act outside of my usual range; he said he thought it would be good for me as an actor, and he thought that i had the skills to do it.”

Cunha experienced a similar adaptation in order to play her character Evelyn, even with some similarities between herself and the character

“I haven’t really done a contemporary play like this one before, where I play someone that is actually my age and is an artsy girl like myself, but Evelyn’s personality is completely different than me, though,” Cunha said. “She is a Pisces and I’m a Taurus. She would do anything for art and I would do anything for the people I care about. But […] I think that was one of the difficult things about portraying this role, is that Evelyn is my age and in a similar time period, and I can relate to her in so many physical ways, but it has been a lot harder to find things in common with her or ways to relate or justify her actions.”

Another difficulty has been the breaks from rehearsal due to winter holidays, as the cast was able to rehearse together during week 10 of Fall Quarter and then only a few times all together during winter break. Week one of Winter Quarter has been the first time since the end of Fall Quarter that all the cast has been together.

“For a lot of the time over break it was me, Melissa and Gregory when we were rehearsing,” Church said. “It was hard not having the whole cast here because we couldn’t string everything together. It’s only been a full week since we’ve had the full cast back together. It’s been a little rough because we’re getting back in the groove of things and we’re about to start tech rehearsal.”

Despite any temporary hitches in rehearsal, the dedication of the actors and the quality of the performances are expected to make a strong show.

“The actors are doing fantastic, especially the leads bringing life into these characters,” Holmes said. “They are both nervous about performing, and I’m a little nervous too about directing for the first time, but we’re so excited about performing.”

The Shape of Things will begin showing Jan. 19 in Wright Hall, and tickets can be purchased on the production’s website.


Written by: Caroline Rutten — arts@theaggie.org


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