The Shape of Things

The Shape of Things
a kate west review
written by neil labute, directed by dámasco rodriguez
at the Balcony Theatre,
Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave. South Pasadena
contact the Furious Theatre Company ( or call (626) 356-PLAY
running January 21 -
February 20, 2005

Playwright and filmmaker Neil LaBute brings his trendy cynicism to
Los Angeles audiences once again in “The Shape of Things,” now playing at the Balcony Theatre in Pasadena.

Four college students meet and are immediately entwined in dramatic relationship scenarios that play out in very unexpected ways. Of the four actors, Vonessa Martin, Brad Price, Sara Hennessy and Shawn Lee (all co-founders of the Furious Theatre Company), the men are much stronger than the women. Vonessa Martin as Evelyn, the co-ed who seduces Adam (Brad Price), is rather stiff and mannered, unfortunately. Shawn Lee, as Phillip, Adam’s best friend, is the most engaging and dynamic, casually tossing out lines designed to skewer, yet amuse. Neil LaBute’s dialogue is an acquired taste in the first place, as it is unrealistically stylized at times and only works with an actor’s strong delivery.

The story is that Evelyn (Vonessa Martin) and Adam (Brad Price) meet and apparently fall in love. Phillip (Shawn Lee) and Jenny (Sara Hennessy) also meet and fall in love and the four of them parallel each other as they complicate each other’s lives. Misunderstandings and innuendoes ensue and in spite of the best of intentions, each friend becomes increasingly disheartened, duplicitous and cruel. All four characters grow up meanwhile, especially Adam, who goes from an awkward nail-biting wallflower to a confident, stylish, wiser man.

The unexpected conclusion is rather harsh and incredulous. To LaBute’s credit, we don’t see this one coming, however, it may leave you cold. Dámasco Rodriguez’s directing is fine, the transitions smooth and actually entertaining, but the overall story is rather bleak. Also, scenic Designer Melissa Teoh built a nice, white set, which converts seamlessly into various scenes (coffee shop, museum, apartment, etc.). Still, although the play is short, with no intermission, the final act is a bit tedious and overly written. If you enjoy this type of cold introspection, give it a try, but remember this is not a play for romantic hopefuls.

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The Blacker the Berry

The Blacker the Berry, the Sweeter the Juice
a kate west review
written by and starring Mario Burrell, directed by Jemal McNeil
at the Zephyr Theatre,
7458 Melrose Ave., Hollywood, CA 90046
contact or call
(323) 960-7792
Running January 2 –
February 14, 2005

Mario Burrell, vibrant local talent, Broadway veteran (“Rent”) and former Groundlings student (famous improv troupe – see, tells his own tale in “The Blacker the
Berry, the Sweeter the Juice.” Playing to full houses at the Zephyr Theatre in Hollywood, Mario relates his life in show business while reflecting on his father, Walter Burrell (prominent journalist and publicist), who inspired him to celebrate his black heritage.

It is a sweetly-told love ballad, encompassing all the wrongs and rights that Hollywood has dealt him as a black actor and emphasizing his ability to stay strong, holding on to the memory of his beloved father. His father’s passing away had a profound on him obviously, but it also gave him the strength of integrity to remain true to himself.

Mario plays about eight different characters, all wildly different, and he completely immerses himself in each. One standout character is an older woman Mario presumably met while teaching at the Los Angeles Unified School District whose down-to-earth personality really shines through in his delightful version. She does not put up with fools and runs her classroom in a very real no-nonsense, but absolutely loving way. Her homespun sayings are highly entertaining and Mario delivers each with crowd-pleasing expertise. He also impersonates a street punk with acting aspirations, a clueless director who asks him to “be blacker” (Kelli Kirkland makes a special as the “Fried Chicken Fairy” to help him achieve that blackness) and many other delightful characters, each having had a vivid impact on his life.

Director Jemal McNeil paces Mario fairly well, although that particular evening there seemed to be some minor technical glitches and Mario had to overcome some initial nervousness. The house was packed to the rafters, however, which is truly commendable for a one-man show. Los Angeles audiences can be fickle, after all. Mario’s sincere and still-raw emotion over his father and his obvious love of theater and for playing fascinating characters makes this a poignant performance. He has a real sweetness in his stage presence and is immediately likeable. While the show could have been a bit longer and we would have liked to hear more about his father, it is a nice piece of nostalgia and audiences leave gratified to have shared some common emotions.

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