“Theatre: A Love Story” by Caridad Svich, which opened tonight and runs through March 27, begins with a vertiginous video tour through the streets of the theater district in Cincinnati, until it burrows into the Know Theater and lands in close-up on the face of one Elizabeth Malloy, who informs us: “This is a play, but it may not always behave like a play.” We see what she means long before the finish 100 minutes later when she says:
“Imagine you are here. Imagine this room is the world….”
Of course, for nearly a year now, this room (any room I see on my screen) IS the world (my world.) Which begs the question: Is such moment like ours the right time for an avant-garde work like “Theatre: A Love Story”?
A wag might reply that you do really have to love theater to keep your attention on a screen for such a non-linear work for an hour and 40 minutes.
But maybe this period of isolation and uncertainty – for the theater (and for the world) – will make you more receptive to this abstract, lyrical history and critique of theater (and of the world.)
That first actor talks about how theater started with the urge that one person had in a gathering around a campfire to tell a story. But she is joined, one at a time, by three more actors — A.J. Baldwin, Montez O. Jenkins Copeland and Nathan Tubbs – who complicate and question the narrative, or reshape it, expand it.
Is my description vague? It’s hard to sum up the cryptic and convoluted riffs, that are both metaphorical and literal, both about the evolution of theater and simultaneously about the evolution of civilization as a whole. A sample of the dialogue:
THREE: and everything is in ruins.
And there’s dirt and ash and soaking bits everywhere.
And glass and the whiteness of what once used to be a sofa. Somewhere over there.
ONE: but we pretend we don’t see it. Because it belongs to another theatre. One we gave up on a long time ago.
TWO: We can’t bear to think of sofas.
THREE: the worst.
TWO: we cannot stand to see one more sofa. Our hearts just sink at the thought of one…
A sofa is central to (and symbolic of) bourgeois theater, which takes place in a room. A sofa is also the one standard piece of furniture in the main room of any middle class household, The room looms large in this work, as metaphor…and as room.
In one extensive monologue, the fourth actor, Montez O. Jenkins Copeland, reminds us of rooms we’ve seen in theaters — A kitchen with running water….A chandelier. A helicopter — which segues into a riff on the relative value put on things, as evidence by their costs – how much the actors are paid compared to how much a fancy set costs.
At the end, in that same monologue where Molloy asks us to imagine the room as the world, she also reminisces about how her grandmother used to say “faith takes work.” The actress/character doesn’t have her grandmother’s faith, she says. But “I did have faith in gatherings such as these. Because they made me dream. Even though they were not necessarily ‘round a campfire.” She speaks in the past, but for all the enigmatic, sullen language, “Theatre A Love Story” — which has dancing and music and playful video art overlaying the performances — seems proof these theater makers in Cincinnati still have that faith.
.Theatre: A Love Story
By Caridad Svich
Directors: Daryl Harris, Brant Russell, Tamara Winters
Choreographic Collaborators: Pones
Choreographer: Kim Popa
Scenic & Lighting Designer: Andrew Hungerford
Costume Designer: Noelle Wedig-Johnston
Sound Designer: Douglas Borntrager
Director of Photography: Ryan Lewis
Props Design & Scenic Art: Kayla Williams
Stage Manager: Meghan Winter
Technical Director: Henry Bateman
Running time: 100 minutes
Pay What You Wish – $30
A.J. Baldwin, Montez O. Jenkins-Copeland, Elizabeth Molloy, Nathan Tubbs
Dancers: Courtney Duncan, Ian Forsgren, Ashley Morton, Emily Vizina