Love Lessons From The Stage

Looking for love on all the wrong stages? Theatergoers have found useful lessons about love from Death of A Salesman, Les Miserables, Follies, Ragtime, Mame, and one of three newly opened shows, "Hearts Like Fists"

Looking for love on all the wrong stages? Theatergoers have found useful lessons about love from Death of A Salesman, Les Miserables, Follies, Ragtime, Mame, and one of three newly opened shows, “Hearts Like Fists”

Can theater teach us anything about love?

Three very different shows I reviewed this week all believe so – the Flux Theatre Ensemble’s production of “Hearts Like Fist,” “The Drunken City” at the WorkShop Theater, and, most oddly, David Mamet’s “The Anarchist”

They are certainly not alone in this faith — although, to paraphrase the Waylon Jennings song, one has to wonder whether we’ve been looking for love on all the wrong stages:

Monica Bauer says she learned about love from “Death of A Salesman,” which “taught me that love survives even after respect is gone: Biff will always love Willy, as Willy loved Biff.”

Rebecca McNew says that both “Les Misérables” and “Phantom of the Opera”  taught her about “love that forgives regardless of wrongs.”

Wall Street Journal drama critic Terry Teachout says he learned about love from “‘Follies,’ God help me–but I prefer not to say what.”

Debra Winger to Patti LuPone in The Anarchist :Do I lack love?

Debra Winger to Patti LuPone in The Anarchist: “Do I lack love?”/ “Of course you do.”

The strangest of the newly staged love lessons is from  David Mamet’s “The Anarchist” at the John Golden Theater on Broadway, which stars Patti LuPone as Cathy, a radical activist in prison for murder for 35 years, seeking to be released on parole by Ann, an unspecified official about to retire, played by Debra Winger.  Although Ann primarily interrogates and Cathy mostly justifies,  the conversation is in no way all in one direction.

Cathy, a Jew who has found Jesus in prison, says she wants to save Ann.  Ann, like Cathy, is attracted to other women – so Cathy (and the playwright) imply – and has been repressing this love. One of the less abstruse exchanges:

Cathy: Would you like me to set you free?

Ann: How would you set me free?….How am I bound?

Cathy: Will you answer me?

Ann: You wrote “The troubled cannot be freed by psychiatry.” That they do not lack psychiatry.

Cathy: That’s right

Ann: “…they lack love.” Do I lack love?

Cathy: Of course you do.

Ann: I lack love…

Cathy: That’s why you’re frightened.

Ann: I’m frightened. Why?

Cathy: Because you’re leaving.

Ann: Has my work here given me love?

Cathy: It’s given you structure. Which is to say, repression

Ann: Sexual repression?

Cathy: Of the need for love

"Hearts Like Fists" by Adam  Szymkowicz is a “superhero noir comedy about the dangers of love.”

“Hearts Like Fists” by Adam Szymkowicz is a “superhero noir comedy about the dangers of love.”


Playwright Adam Szymkowicz makes his points about love and repression far more playfully in  “Hearts Like Fists” at the Secret Theater, which the Flux Ensemble describes as a “superhero noir comedy about the dangers of love.” Masked female CrimeFighers are trying to stop the demented Doctor X from terrorizing the city, injecting poison into happily sleeping couples. It turns out that Doctor X is jealous, having been thwarted in his pursuit of love. Each of the characters in this theatrical version of a graphic novel has their own battle with their attractions. As Flux artistic director August Schulenburg points out, the difficulty of love pushes people to “settle” for having a purpose in life, and the characters in “Hearts Like Fists” are “each trying to keep their balance between the pulls of purpose and passion.” If there is an overarching lesson, it is that you shouldn’t let past heartbreaks smack you down for good.

Adam Bock's "The Drunken City" -- friendship and liquor aren't always the best recipe for love.

Adam Bock’s “The Drunken City” — friendship and liquor aren’t always the best recipe for love.

In the revival of Adam Bock’s The Drunken City, three young women from a suburban town go bar-hopping in the big city as a bachelorette party. The one getting married stumbles upon a bank clerk from their town, who is still recovering from getting dumped a year earlier. Suddenly the two are locking lips, much to the shock of their friends, who call for reinforcements.  The bride-to-be starts to question her impending nuptials, angering her friends. In his sweet, comic way, Bock is making a point about how friends often enforce and impose their notions of love.

Other lessons of love from the stage, solicited via Twitter: What show, what lesson?

‪@DrHornetBupp Ragtime taught me love knows no religions, hatred or barriers.

V in V ‏‪@VictoriaInVerse “Next Fall,” by Geoffrey Nauffts says tons aboutt love – ie., learning to love others w/o bias or condition.

Mike Floyd @ObsrvatnlstNYC Company: We’re all experiencing the same shit.

Ellen Hassett Cahill‪ @eggsquared: The Last Days of Judas Iscariot: Forgiveness

Lisa Amand‏‪@Imnofoodie Chaplin: Childhood heartbreak is forever sad yet can fuel great art.

Lisa Waldrop ‏‪@lisawaldrop Mame, oddly enough…unlikely family alliances!

‪@barbiebackstage  Les Miserables: “To love another person is to see the face of God”


About New York Theater
Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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