November 2, 2016

"Love, Love, Love" Badmouths the Baby-Boomer Generation

Are we Baby Boomers really so selfish? I ask because over the last few years, young playwrights have been hinting at the resentment and anger they feel toward those of us born in the middle decades of the last century. And now the British playwright Mike Bartlett, who's 36, has come right out with it and branded us solipsistic in Love, Love, Love, which is running at the Roundabout Theatre Company's Laura Pels Theatre through Dec. 18.

Bartlett's dramedy spans 40 years in the life of Kenneth and Sandra, who meet in 1967 when young people around the world were declaring their independence from conventional society and wearing their hair long and their dresses short, smoking dope and sleeping around and listening to music like The Beatles' "Love is All You Need," which ushered in the Summer of Love and provides the play its ironic title (I confess to wondering about how much it must cost to pay for the rights to play that song each night).

The subsequent scenes take place in 1990 and 2011 and bring in the couple's children, first as teens and later as adults themselves. Kenneth and Sandra change with the years and yet they remain (literally) center stage and totally self-involved, which is the problem that Bartlett wants to explore (click here to read an interview with him).

Bartlett is a clever writer with an acute ear for dialog and, with the assistance of Michael Mayer's sharp direction, the play is undeniably witty and entertaining (who doesn't enjoy chuckling at yuppie foibles?) But I had expected it to be more—and to be more subtle.

I fell in love with Bartlett when I saw his play Cock, a stripped-down romantic triangle with a bisexual man at its center (click here to read my review) and I admired the pomp and circumstance of his King Charles III, an imagining of the reign of the current Prince of Wales written in iambic pentameter.

But be they royals or commoners, the characters in those earlier works come across as complex human beings who want to do the right thing and to be good people. Kenneth and Sandra, on the other hand, are almost pathologically oblivious to the needs of their children or anyone else around them.

The British actor Richard Armitage and the American actress Amy Ryan (click here to read a profile of her) bring their considerable personal charisma to the roles and make it fun to hang around with them and their cast mates Alex Hurt, Zoe Kazan and Ben Rosenfield who play Kenneth's proletarian brother (who was also Sandra's original boyfriend) and the couple's damaged children.

The creative team does its part too. Susan Hilferty's costumes are spot-on for each era and Derek McLane's sets showcase the couple's increasing affluence, although the scene changes take an awfully long time.

But none of it is enough to inflate the play's one-dimensional caricatures into full-bodied people or to refine its broad generalizations about the lives of those in the boomer generation into a convincing portrait of one specific family.

In a climactic speech that will probably be heard in audition rooms for years to come the daughter bitterly upbraids her parents:“You didn’t change the world, you bought it. Privatised it. What did you stand for? Peace? Love? Nothing except being able to do whatever the fuck you wanted.” 

Really? Call me defensive if you'd like but it seems churlish to say that the baby-boom generation didn't contribute anything of value to the world.  After all, where would Bartlett and his play be without The Beatles?

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