Neil Labute’s play from the turn of the millenium poses distinct questions: about how far you would go for love, and about the responsibility of the artist. It charts the influence of an art graduate on a shy literature student and his friends, as she blows into his life, and he starts to change his appearance and grow more confident under her influence.
Adam and Evelyn meet in a museum where, as a part-time attendant, he challenges her for getting too close to a sculpture of a male nude. Their opening repartee is bright and funny; they spar as intellectual equals but Adam is in thrall to her spirit and confidence. Evelyn is intent on making her own artistic statement with the statue, and he lets her get away with it.
Their names are heavy with metaphorical suggestion, in a play about creation and the influence of others on our actions. Under Evelyn’s influence Adam changes, gets fitter and becomes more daring. His friends Phillip and Jenny are confused by the change, and while they're impressed by his development it changes the relationships between them. As Adam moves through a series of bigger decisions, is Evelyn manipulating him, or letting him blossom? And how much do you change to please a lover?
Evelyn is the driving force in the play, the agent of change – and in this role Bridie Vowels was an impressive blast of insolence and intelligence. Though the American accents were patchy, it was clear that she was different, an out-of-towner with the spirit to confront small town mores. I would have liked her to be more confrontational and defiant during the denouement.
The music choices were great, imparting just the right sense of energy and yearning, but there were problems with props and prosthetics that took the edge off the play. When Adam first appears he has a pronounced paunch, which disappears as he gets fitter – but I’d found it so distracting in the first place, because it looked so odd on a chap who was clearly slim. Sometimes, a company must have confidence in their ability to control the audience’s suspension of disbelief, to trust that they'll believe it when the other characters react to his weight loss or improvement in appearance. Much can be conveyed simply by posture, hair, glasses and clothes.
The accidental uncovering of a prop was also unfortunate as, for me at least, it gave away the end of the play, robbing the climax of emotional punch. But these issues are easily rectified and this is another challenging choice of play from Sudden Impulse. It is an intellectual piece, and the ideas it carries resonate in an increasingly individualistic society, with its emphasis on personal growth and change.