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A CurtainUp Review
Love and Information
By Elyse Sommer
Churchill has upped the cube's fifty-four moveable blocks to some sixty scenes organized into seven parts. For all their surface differences, these play nuggets add up to a single though fragmented picture of some one hundred people. What unifies this kaleidoscopic sum of many parts is that each scene shows the effect of an information swamped society on the human condition.
Many of the dramatized equivalents of tweets that drive this plotless endeavor are quite funny, but more than a few are confusing and unsatisfactorily fragmented. But if you hang in there you'll see each segment as part of the exploration of information's effect on how we live and love: How it's revealed or not revealed; received, used or misused; how it delights or depresses, clarifies or befuddles.
The information theme that propels us from scene to scene begins with two lovers dealing with secret information the old-fashioned way. She coaxes him to whisper the secret she feels stands between them in her ear. Another character in love is defending the object of his passion to a friend who can't see a computer as a substitute for a flesh and blood woman. ("I don't care what you say. . .she's beautiful she's intelligent she understands me."). Other snippets are more downbeat. Case in point: A middle-aged man hides his grief at losing his job by ranting about being told he was fired via e-mail rather than face-to-face; a woman with a terminal illness asks the doctor how much time she has. Characters delighted with the ever increasing access to information are counter balanced throughout by those unable to cope.
While the scenes sometimes last less than a minute and never much more, the sum total comes to an hour and 45 minutes, longer than Churchill's previous plays produced at New York Theatre Workshop: Far Away-55 minutes and A Number-65 minutes .
Both Far Away and A Number came with the buzz of its star-powered casting, with Frances McDormand in the former and Sam Shepard and Dallas Roberts in the latter. While Love and Information can't boast that sort of star power, it has a big cast of fifteen to take on the multitude of characters. All, like the actors in the London production, prove to be more than up to the daunting shifts from character to character, complete with costume changes. Karen Kandel, Maria Tucci, Kellie Overbey John Procaccino and James Waterston are just some who have standout moments.
It's the New York company's great good fortune that James Macdonald and his superb crafts team are aboard to once again give a vivid stage life to the minimalist script that has no stage directions or specifics about the speakers' ages or sex. MacDonald's savvy decisions about who will be in each snippet, with what props and in what costumes is what makes Love and Information fun to watch. The only decision I would question is why he projects the number at the beginning of each new part, but ignore the scene titles included in the script. Granted, there are so many that projecting them might clutter things up but I think theater goers would appreciate having them listed in the program after the cast list.
Gabriel Berry and Andrea Hood's character and situation defining costumes further fill in details omitted from the fragmentary dialogue. Christopher Shutt's punchy sound design, does double duty to set the mood for the next scene and also cover up the movement of props in and out of the doors built into the upstage section of the set. Stage Manager Christine Catti and her backstage helpers should be called out at the end of each performance for a special round of applause.
Ultimately there's a lot of information being processed here. Given that not every piece of this theatrical puzzle is as potent as it wants to be, one can't help wishing that Miss Churchill had trimmed enough of the less effective scenes to match rather than exceed the number of pieces in Rubik's Cube. Without its own information overload, her play would be easier to love without reservation.