Review: (Toronto / Theatre) Of Shapes Transformed By Love
Photo by Jonathan Harvey
Misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms Full of sound and fury; signifying nothing
by Lisa McKeown
Written and directed by Kyle Capstick, Of Shapes Transformed by Love is described in the programme as a show that grew out of three separate monologues. Inspired by a colleague who advised him that "if ever you're writing a show and it wants to be bigger, don't be afraid to let it, " Capstick turned the monologues into a play.
And it's too bad that he did, because what came out was the most incredibly confused, inchoate, and pretentious piece of theatre I've had the misfortune to sit through in a very long time. The programme claims boldly that this play is about "the intersection of permission to love and love as permission." In fact, it's more at the intersection of a Greek myth, Game of Thrones, and a contemporary soap-opera. And that's if you manage to make sense of anything that is happening on stage. This is hard to do, because in no way does the show provide a sense of the context or the world of the characters such that any sense can be made of their actions, nor do we have any idea of what the stakes of those actions might be.
Let me try to boil this down to the major plot points to give you a sense of what I'm talking about: the play opens with a woman who is waiting for her lover on the spot she was standing on when he left, who is on a voyage of some kind, and who has been gone for an indefinite period of time. She refuses to believe her lover is dead, because his body was never recovered, and when some people try to forcibly remove her, they find they can't because she's become a tree.
Then we see two lovers by the tree, a scene which quickly turns dark when the man rapes the woman and tells her that she's ruined and will have to marry him. She asks the chaplain for protection from her rapist, but the chaplain then warns the rapist about her, and the rapist tricks the woman into looking like she's attempting to murder him so that she gets arrested and sentenced to death. It turns out she's pregnant, so they wait until she has her baby, then they try to burn her at the stake. The tree protects her by blowing out the fire, until she turns into a magpie.
Flash to the son who is now a young boy, and who receives a slingshot for his birthday. During his practicing, he accidentally kills his magpie-mother, and the rapist retreats in grief. We then see the son grown up, with a lover of his own. And at first, we think that he's abusing her, but then we learn that she's actually abusing him. Then, she wants him to cut her heart out, but he can't, and then she turns into some sort of insect who is promptly stepped on by a new man entering the scene.
The same man (it's unclear who he is) is then depicted with his trans friend, helping her to put on makeup. They have a discussion in which it comes out that this man's ex calls her 'mutt', due to the fact that she has a penis. He then writes 'mutt' on her face, and then offering to cut off her penis, because he loves her. The ex turns up, and she attacks him and accuses him of calling her a 'mutt' and asks him to cut off her penis (gently). So he starts to but then she turns into a shower of leaves.
And this is meant to be a show about love and permission? This is actually not just a ridiculous claim but in fact deeply worrisome, because there isn't a trace of anything resembling a healthy, loving relationship (or permission for that matter) in the entire play, giving me pause and making me question if the creator of this show has an inkling of what love is. There is some vague thread of transformation here, and some possible link to the Metamorphosis, but exactly what the show is saying about that escapes me. What is more clear is that this show is about rape, abuse, and transgression. It's about people who are caught in unhealthy relationships, based in lust, obsession, and revenge. Which are important topics too, and worthy of exploration, but such an exploration requires sensitivity, and a depth of insight into human relationships that this show simply does not have. It also requires a rape trigger warning (so consider this your official warning, because the show certainly doesn't provide one, one of just many glaring errors in judgement in this entire production.)
Some of the actors definitely provided a bit of relief to my internal wailing and gnashing of teeth: Brittany Robinson, Andrew Pimento and Amie Marie Wallace all managed to imbue the script with a dash of authenticity and stage presence that was a welcome breath of air amidst the mire of melodrama and confusion. The set and lighting design by Joe Pagnan was gorgeous: the set was primarily a circular wooden stage lit almost entirely by hanging candles. It should also be emphasized that the play is set on an outdoor stage, though the stage itself is protected by the canopy. They also provide you with blankets to shield you from the cold (but not, unfortunately, the play).