February 22, 2014

"Love and Information" Offers Plenty of Both

It turns out to be surprisingly easy to love Love and Information the new Caryl Churchill play that New York Theatre Workshop opened this week at the Minetta Lane Theatre. I don’t always feel that way about Churchill’s work which, with its highbrow intellectualism, can sometimes be too highfalutin for me. But Love and Information, which is running through April 6, has a lot of heart.

As you’ve no doubt heard by now the play consists of 57 vignettes that play out over two intermissionless hours in which 15 actors of varying ages, genders and ethnicities bring some 100 different characters to life in a cavalcade of relationships that are familiar to almost everyone.   

Some of the scenes last only seconds, others stretch out for a minute or two. Most are exchanges between two people but a few are more amply populated. Parents and children reach out to one another. Friends try to chill out together. Colleagues—office rats, circus clowns, Elvis impersonators—exchange information.  Lovers try to connect.

Almost every scene hits home.  And the credit for that goes as much to the director, and Churchill's frequent collaborator, James Macdonald as it does to the playwright. 
For Churchill's script reads almost as blank verse. The scenes are divided into seven sections but there are no stage directions.  In fact, there are no characters. Churchill has just written lines to be spoken, leaving it to Macdonald and his design team to fill the spaces in between.  Which they’ve done brilliantly.

All the action takes place within a white-tiled cube smartly designed by Miriam Buether so that the space takes on different personalities with the addition of just a prop or two and the occasional video projection. 
The costumes by Gabriel Berry and Andrea Hood send subtle but clear signals about the kind of people their wearers are.  And I can’t think of a time when the sound design, devised by Christopher Shutt, has been more integral to a production. 

Plus a special shout-out has to go to Christine Catti, the production stage manager who orchestrates the split-second comings and goings in a clever way that I won’t spoil for you.

But the biggest kudos go to the cast. Each actor plays a different part every time she or he appears and, because the scenes change so rapidly, they have to establish the full stories of their characters within an instant. The degree of skill required is of the highest order and there isn’t a sluggard in the bunch—or a way to single out any one of them. 
The audience is required to play a role too. You can’t just sit back in your seat for this one.  It took me a while to figure out exactly what was going on, to see the relationship between the experimental form of the play and its functional meaning, to understand Churchill's underlying message about the evermore complicated struggle between the head and the heart, between knowing and feeling.  

But it wasn’t a chore. Some of the scenes are laugh-out-loud funny; others surprisingly touching. They reminded me of George Saunders recent story collection. I know I’ve been name checking him quite a bit lately but both his stories and Churchill’s play are tapping into our worries about the too-much information world in which we now live—and are unabashedly reassuring us that love will find a way to make sense of it.

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