At the end of Caryl Churchill’s dazzling experimental play “Love and Information,” theatergoers have spent two hours watching 15 actors portray 100-plus characters in more than 60 scenes, some as short as a few seconds, none longer than a few minutes — each scene, no matter how brief, with its own costumes and props: Two characters elaborately dressed as Elvis Presley impersonators, both looking as if they stayed up too late and drank too much, slouch silently in their seats, until one says: “The difficulty of getting the Israelis and Palestinians to…” Blackout. That’s the whole scene.
A woman tells a boy she is his mother, not his sister; they then argue whether he should tell his mother (actually his grandmother) that he now knows.
A bride in a frilly wedding dress and a groom in a tuxedo sit in what look like car seats, the man looking disgusted.
A man is introduced to somebody, then led to a piano, saying he doesn’t know how to play the piano, but he then sits down and plays beautifully; when he gets up, he is introduced to the same person, and says again he doesn’t know how to play the piano. (Ah, like the amnesiac with the musical memory whom neurologist Oliver Sacks writes about, I thought, feeling smart — but it was time for the next vignette.)
Some of the scenes are amusing, some haunting, some thought-provoking. Some have delicious banter or striking twists. Some are just puzzling. All are well-acted — not so easy an accomplishment when you have a few seconds to suggest entire lives and whole worlds. Many of the vignettes have some clear connection with love, others with information. Not all the scenes are about both love and information, but some can lay claim to both, such as the first scene, which begins:
She: Please, please tell me
She: Please because I’ll never
He: Don’t ask, don’t ask
She: I’ll never tell
After a few minutes more of her pleading:
He: All right I’ll tell you
She: You don’t have to
Against a backdrop of a big white cube in vertiginous perspective, scenes are furnished with park benches, or that fully working piano, or a swing set, or a bed cleverly placed upright as if the audience is looking down upon the couple in the bed from their ceiling. (The entire text of that bed scene is in the caption of the photograph above.)
“Love and Information” is an impressive technical achievement, as much a triumph of the stage manager (Christine Catti, take a bow) and unheralded prop masters who quickly put everything in place, as of director James MacDonald. Also deserving kudos are the set designer Miriam Buether and especially the costume designers Gabriel Berry and Andrea Hood. Sometimes the visuals seem to be the whole point of the scene, or at least what’s entertaining about it. The costumes in the clown scene, in the photograph above, are clever and hilarious. In another scene, two women sitting next to each other on an airplane are apparently arguing about the Iraq War, but what made me laugh was the third character, a man fast asleep in the third seat. Sound designer Christopher Shutt creates a kind of soundscape in the brief darkness during scene changes that helps tie the scenes together.
But are we meant to tie the scenes together? What does “Love and Information” all add up to? Are we supposed to add it up? Or are these like a stream of Tweets, or the little spontaneous stories we glimpse while passing by on a bicycle or in a bus, in which we ourselves supply the missing context and meaning? Is this play meant as an exercise in perception and cognition — a test? It is certainly eye-opening how much we can figure out from a single moment; this makes the very briefest scenes among the most delightful.
Is “Love and Information” also an exercise in patience? Every now and then, a number is projected on the blacked-out scrim – the numbers progress from 1 to 7. Presumably the scenes that fall within each number belong to distinct categories, but those categories are not labeled on stage or in the program. I’m glad I didn’t know how many numbers there were until the end, because I might have started a countdown. This two-hour show with no intermission starts to feel too long. At around the point where the intermission would have been, I started feeling “Love and Information” overload. I loved it anyway.
Love and Information
by New York Theatre Workshop at the Minetta Lane Theater
by Caryl Churchill
Directed by James MacDonald
Scenic design by Miriam Buether, costume design by Gabriel Berry and Andrea Hood, lighting design by Peter Mumford, sound design by Christopher Shutt, production stage manager — Christine Catti
Cast: Phillip James Brannon, Randy Danson, Susannah Flood, Noah Galvin, Jennifer Ikeda, Karen Kandel, Irene Sofia Lucio, Nate Miller, Kellie Overbey, Adante Power, John Procaccino, Lucas Caleb Rooney, Maria Tucci, James Waterston and Zoë Winters
Love and Information is scheduled to run through Sunday, March 23, 2014
Update: Love and Information has been extended through April 6, 2014