FREDONIA - Just because you can do something, doesn't mean that you should do it.
This is a fairly easily accepted rule in human interaction. But, the Department of Theater and Dance at SUNY Fredonia is currently presenting a production of a play which stretches that rule to its breaking point, and beyond.
The play is ''The Shape of Things,'' by Neil LaBute. The central figures of the plot are college students, named Adam and Evelyn. When we meet them, Adam is working as a security guard at an art museum, and Evelyn is an art student who is offended by the fact that the statuary in the museum has been censored, and who has decided to paint the missing anatomy onto the statuary.
Adam's frustration is understandable, surely, to all of us. He is employed to prevent anyone damaging or making marks upon the art. But, he doesn't have a gun or any other weapon, and if he grabs hold of the young woman or tries to physically control her behavior, he is almost certain to become the object of a lawsuit or even a criminal charge. If he doesn't do his job, he's in trouble, and if he does his job, he might be in bigger trouble.
Adam is shy: a bit nerdy. His clothes are too big and not well coordinated. Evelyn quickly learns that he is open to some female attention, and when he gets even a tiny amount, he delights in it, to the point that he is ready to throw out anything else which might stand in its way.
LaBute has written a long list of plays and films which deal with people who break the fundamental law of philosopher Immanuel Kant: ''A human being must be treated as an end in itself, and never as a means to an end.''
Evelyn's reasoning for her ''shaping'' of Adam is officially for his own good. If he lost a little weight, if he got a more stylish hairstyle and more fashionable clothes, if he worked out at the gym occasionally, these things are rewarded with her praise and her affection. It's all for his own good, right? I've known many men in my life who have been ''encouraged'' in exactly the same way Adam has been.
Kevin Stevens is remarkable as Adam. He makes the visual transformation without looking like he's wearing a putty nose, and he makes us believe that while we might think we would walk away from Evelyn's latest plan, that he accepts and almost wants it. It was a fine performance.
Danielle Izzo was the central powerhouse of the cast, as Evelyn. She is cool, amoral, and ruthless, without journeying one jot beyond a believable human being - well, maybe not until the next to last scene.
Taylor Sheehan and Nick Stevens complete the cast as Phil, Adam's jock roommate, who has little in common with Adam, but who has fallen into the easy situation of calling on Adam when he wants to have a beer with someone or go to a game with someone, and Phil's fiancee Jenny, who once was attracted to Adam, but who has allowed herself to be won away by the more aggressive Phil.
Jessica Hillman-McCord has directed brilliantly, building intensity and then relenting, so that the next moment of intensity feels all the stronger.
Chad Healy's scenic design is perfect for the small Bartlett Theatre, when the performances take place. There are many scene changes, yet they take place quickly and relatively unobtrusively, yet they sock us immediately into the location where the scenes take place. Colin Braeger and Justin M. Petito designed the sound and the lighting, respectively, and all were professionally good.
In general, it's an outstanding production. If adult language or situations which are a bit scandalous are going to upset you, you'll want to pass this one by, but if you're ready to face them head-on, this is a production not to be missed.
''The Shape of Things'' continues tonight, Sunday and May 1-3, in the Bartlett Theatre, on the SUNY Fredonia campus.