When Cristina Henriquez and Samantha Shane browsed the shelves of the Drama Book Shop in midtown Manhattan, searching for a play to inspire them, they weren’t sure what they would find. They only knew that they wanted to perform something meaningful, something that spoke to them as up-and-coming artists in an inspiring and competitive city where many other actors were pursuing a similar dream.
The text they chose was Neil LaBute’s The Shape of Things, a play that was first staged in 2001 and adapted into a film in 2003 starring its original cast. The play tells the story of a young college student who meets and falls in love with an artistic woman who inspires him to change his life, to the delight – and later, chagrin – of his friends. The young, ambitious characters spoke to Henriquez and Shane as artists attempting to create opportunities for themselves, and the female characters in particular impressed both women with their depth and development over the course of the play.
Shane expressed excitement in performing the role of Evelyn, the character she describes as the “explosion” in the play: “She arrives in the other characters’ lives, and they become unraveled. What drew me to the character was her confidence. She’s portrayed as calculated in her actions, but I see a vulnerability about her, and I’m discovering what drives her to be so meticulous. I find that fascinating.”
Henriquez has a different challenge as the quiet, reflective Jenny – almost a polar opposite of Shane’s Evelyn. She appreciates the opportunity to play a character different from herself. “I’m still discovering her character. She’s very different from who I am, which is very interesting as an actor. She’s the observer who stays out of the conflict, but she’s just as affected by everything that’s going on.”
As described by Shane and Henriquez, Evelyn and Jenny are two flawed, interesting female characters with complex layers and histories. Unsurprisingly, they balked at the suggestion that playwright LaBute has a misogynistic agenda in the play. A poster in the comments section of an interview they did with Carey Purcell from The Huffington Post claimed that Neil LaBute “hates women,” an assertion that neither Shane nor Henriquez support.
“I think broad statements of that sort have little credibility,” Shane said. “His work shows the darker side of humanity. It just so happens that some of those characters with dark sides are women.”
“I also think people sometimes expect plays to represent too much, that they expect one play to be representative of all ideas,” Henriquez added.
Both women agreed that Neil LaBute is a provocateur who enjoys exploring complex layers in his characters. Based on their current production and the name of their theatre company, one can easily see why Shane and Henriquez would find those qualities appealing.
Shane and Henriquez first met while studying acting at the William Esper Studio in Manhattan, learning the Meisner technique and forming a friendship that lasted past graduation. During their periods of downtime at their job waiting tables, they eventually came up with a name for themselves, partly inspired by their love for Joan Jett and rock music. A Red Lipped Rebellion was the result of several discussions. As Shane put it, “It felt like a band name – we were a theater rock and roll band that didn’t play any music.”
Over time, the theater rock and roll band that didn’t play music developed into a theatre company that did produce a play – a production entirely arranged and promoted by Shane and Henriquez themselves. They selected the text, found a director they had previously collaborated with in a theatre workshop, reached out to actors who worked with them at the William Esper Studio, and created and promoted a successful indiegogo campaign to finance the production. They left intriguing cards around the city with phrases and quotes from the play, including “If it’s with your mouth, does it count?” and “I know your secret,” hoping to drum up interest with the tantalizing vagueness in those statements. In short, they did almost every step of the prep work in production aside from writing the play themselves.
Despite this impressive achievement, the women of A Red Lipped Rebellion waived their constitutional bragging rights, and instead expressed gratitude for the opportunity to work on a meaningful production with other talented people. “I respect everyone in this production, which makes this all the more inspiring,” said Henriquez, referring to their director, Jay Stull, and their co-stars, Sean McHale and Cory Sharp Haynes. “We get the chance to work in a small group in an intimate space.”
Their chance to work in that intimate space will happen in mid-February, right around Valentine’s Day, at The New Theater at 354 West 45th Street – though they cautioned that one might walk away from The Shape of Things with a less-than-positive view on the nature of love. “It’s an anti-Valentine’s Day play,” joked Shane.
Still, one shouldn’t get the impression that launching an anti-Valentine’s Day campaign is the “rebellion” part of what their theatre company represents. Shane described their mission in much broader terms: “Rebellion is all about sticking to your guns and standing for something.”