Two years after Neil LaBute’s Pygmalion (the story of a young female artist who turns a nerd into a stud), it’s still compelling. How else to explain that last night there was Brian ‘Succession’ Cox in row C, wearing a Logan Roy baseball cap, shades and frown?
With references to Richard Gere and the TV series Kung Fu, and a Time magazine cover that speculates that Hillary Clinton would be the sender, the play is a black-and-white version of sophisticated and effective ideas. Comedy. Here, Peter Butler’s stylishly designed snappy production and cracked post-punk soundtrack are superbly directed by Nicky Allpress. The lead actors Luke ‘Bridgerton’ Newton and Amber ‘Peaky Blinders’ Anderson give comfortable, well-formed performances.
The play sits on the softer, more marketable end of the brutality Labute produced during his Purple Period from 1997 to 2002, driven more by plot than by characters, and more by art and life. Obsessed with objective and subjective truth. It might sound heavy, but don’t worry. With a touch of sexual tension, it’s also a very entertaining piece that makes you realize just how oppressive life can be in a small college town. There is also an element of wish fulfillment here that works on multiple levels. A lover gets a sexy girl, but she keeps her in complete control. A commercial play by four attractive young actors revolves around a discussion of the nature of perception.
Adam and Evelyn (what did you do there?) meet at the museum where he is working for his English degree. She is about to spray paint her genitals on a sculpture where her crotch is carefully hidden. Soon they have a relationship, and she reshapes Adam’s diet, exercise habits, sexual parameters, and nose. And his relationship with his engaged friends Orfish Phil (Majid Medizadeh-Valjadi) and kind Jenny (Kara Harrison-Hodge) becomes unstable.
The romantic betrayals and once-shocking taunts between the four of them now seem almost old-fashioned, but the humor and ideas are still strong. If Evelyn makes Adam healthier, more attractive, more confident — “better” by society’s standards, is it wrong to change him? Will the enjoyment of his relationship diminish when her purpose becomes clear? And is ‘brave’ really a ‘medieval for ‘losers”?
Newton manages to convincingly fool himself in the opening scenes—all specs, bad bangs, apologetic demeanor—before his naturally handsome pomp comes to the fore. But he still maintains his emotional weakness. Anderson, as Evelyn, has a deliciously hinting, carefully predatory personality. Phil and Jenny are just functional characters, but they’re given a cartoonish life here.
Adam’s rage in his final confrontation with Evelyn isn’t entirely convincing, and the play never strikes a decisive blow. But the story is crafted like a sports car and takes you smoothly.
Park Theater, through July 1st. park theater.co.uk
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