The realer world

U grads start their own theater group with a fittingly reflexive play on young artists

Matt Graham

Watching the Twin Cities Theater Company laugh and chat its way through a rehearsal of “The Shape of Things,” Neil LaBute’s 2001 play, it’s hard to tell when the four person cast is reading their lines or when one of the actors is breaking character, stumbling over their (as of yet) unlearned dialogue.

“The Shape of Things”
When: Now through Feb. 11th
Where: The Old Arizona Theater, 2821 Nicollet Ave S., Minneapolis
Tickets: $10. http://www.twincitiestheatercompany.org

This has much to do with playwright/film director LaBute’s highly conversational writing style (the play was made into a film in 2003 starring Paul Rudd and Rachel Weisz). LaBute, also known for writing/directing “Your Friends and Neighbors,” “Nurse Betty” and “The Wicker Man,” fills his play with the pauses, stutters and stammers of everyday speech. But the verisimilitude, in this particular production of the play, runs deeper.

“The Shape of Things” is a story of twentysomething students attempting to come of age through love and art. It’s a fitting choice for the upstart crew to perform, because the TCTC is a story of twentysomething students attempting to come of age through their love of art.

Last spring, when Andrew Hovelson and Stanton Nash were finishing up their college careers in the University’s Bachelor of Fine Arts program, contemplating their senior project, they decided to think big, real big.

“The BFA program gives you three or four weeks to do whatever you please, artistically,” Hovelson said. “We knew we wanted to do the play ‘The Last Five Years.’ We basically created the company to do that play.”

Both actors had experience running their own businesses, selling volumes for the Southwestern Company, a book publisher that helps students finance their college education by hiring them as independent contractors.

But Hovelson said the challenge of running the day-to-day operations of a fledgling theater company is something that nothing could really prepare them for. Fortunately for them, “a little bit of research and a whole lot of naïveté goes a long way.”

After producing and starring in four performances of their two-person production last year, they decided to expand things for their second go round. Nash moved behind the scenes to serve as co-artistic director and Buddy Haardt, Kate Lawry and Melissa Anne Murphy were brought on board to star in “The Shape of Things,” which will run for two weekends with a total of eight performances. All of the actors are either graduate students or seniors at the University.

Meredith Gilles, the production’s stage manager, said the company has to be creative with their limited resources, using and reusing props depending on what the scene calls for. At the prompting of director Randy Reyes, the group took advantage of the video screen at the Old Arizona Theatre to add an extra dimension to the play’s climax. The company got materials wherever it could, which included “making lots of trips to Savers,” she said.

The play is an extreme variation of the archetypal Pygmalion tale – ambitious lover attempts to remake mate into an idealized image – and it promises to be enigmatic.

“It’s just a lot of human interaction on stage,” Hovelson said. “It leaves a lot of questions. At the end of the play you don’t know who’s right and who’s wrong.”

And if the play is ambiguous, the future of the company is even more so. But Hovelson said he would like to turn the TCTC into a permanent avenue for aspiring actors to get a chance to work in Minneapolis, in a profession where finding work is always a challenge, especially for the young.

“It’s all about ‘Belief Factor’: you have to believe you can do anything,” he said. “We’re not gonna make excuses for ourselves for being young.”