R-rated Theatre BR production helps bridge generational gap

Theatre Baton Rouge’s Turner-Fischer City Series, formerly known as the Second Stage series, is popular with younger audiences, maybe because the productions deal with some angsty topics that college-age audiences might recognize.

But “The Shape of Things” director Neal Hebert thinks this play, which opens Thursday, July 31, could bridge a theatrical generation gap.

“My grandparents like musicals,” he says. “It’s what they grew up with, but the younger generation wants something different. They want to see plays that are like the movies they see at Cinemark Perkins Rowe.”

“Shape” fits the bill.

Adam, a nerdy English literature major, is in love with Evelyn, a tough, punk artist, and Evelyn might feel the same about Adam.

“I think they both feel the same when they first meet,” says Stephen Horne, who plays Adam in Neil LaBute’s drama.

Stephanie Toups plays Evelyn the artist.

“There is a time where she’s attracted to Adam, but then something happens,” she says. “There’s a twist in the plot, and I don’t want to give away any spoilers.”

“The Shape of Things” premiered in 2001 in London’s West End Theatre District. The original cast included Paul Rudd as Adam, Rachel Weisz as Evelyn, Gretchen Moll as Jenny and Fred Weller as Phillip.

“It was one of the hottest plays there at the time,” says Hebert, who saw the original London production. “When Barry Kyle did the play at LSU in 2003, it was the play’s American college premiere, and I was the dramaturge for that.”

A dramaturge, Hebert says, is like an assistant director, but they fight for the production staying true to the script.

“They make sure we don’t get away from the playwright’s intent or words,” he said.

Adult language and content are interspersed throughout, earning this story an R rating, but it isn’t the R rating that draws younger viewers. “This is realism theater,” Hebert says. “Some people don’t like realism, but I have no problem with it. These are characters in real situations.”

Still, Hebert stresses that audience members should heed the adult content warning.

“Audiences who are looking for something like ‘Annie’ are going to be disappointed,” he says. “And this is definitely not a play that you will want to bring children to. The Turner-Fischer Series is supposed to be different than the Capital Series. It gives us a chance to bring some edgier material to the stage in Baton Rouge, and I’m excited about that.”

Horne and Toups are Theatre Baton Rouge veterans, and both were familiar with LaBute’s play before auditioning.

“I’ve always been a fan of role reversals, and this play is sort of about the anti-normal as the main characters,” Horne says.

“Yeah, Evelyn is like the anti-ingenue,” Toups adds.

Horne describes Adam as insecure, and he falls for Evelyn the moment he meets her.

“He’s one of those fall-in-love-on-the-spot guys,” Horne says. “He’s awkward, and he’s never really grown out of that stage. That was me until a few years ago.”

Evelyn is the opposite. She’s confident and goes after what she wants. But a certain vulnerability is exposed along the way, which changes everything in her attitude toward Adam.

“But to tell about it would be giving away the surprise,” Toups says. “Evelyn is different from any role I’ve ever played. It’s been interesting to explore what could be the darker side of me.”

CAST: Stephanie Toups, Evelyn; Stephen Horne, Adam; Michael Hicks, Statue; Alex DiLeo, Jenny; Spencer LaBelle, Phillip.

ARTISTIC STAFF: Neal Hebert, director; Stephanie McCabe, assistant director; Piper Nosal, assistant director; Sydney Stevens, dramaturg.