Thursday, July 9, 2015

"Love and Information"


Love and Information
Caryl Churchill

Fifty-seven disparate scenes, lasting a few seconds to a few minutes, pass before us with little pause in American Conservatory Theatre’s Love and Information by much-celebrated Caryl Churhill.  They are divided with no apparent logic into six groupings that are introduced on a large, background screen by Instagram-like faces of random people whose flashing pictures eventually form a number to announce the next clumping of scenes.  The cast of twelve moves in and out of the scenes usually in duets, sometimes in triads or other configurations, with solo appearances punctuating the flow from time to time (like an old man wandering in a robe or a woman looking for a moment out of a door for her kitty).  Once in a while, the scenes are partially or totally performed on the projection screen before us.  The result is at first fascinating in the variety of presentation, the many different subjects tackled in the miniscule vignettes, and in the flow of non-named characters who come and go, mostly never to appear again.  But as the 90-minute show flickers through bits of unfinished stories, I found myself checking my watch a number of times to see just how much longer this rather meaningless display of humanity was going to continue parading before us.

The show opens with one woman trying to pry out of another a secret that eventually is whispered in her ear, to her horror of whatever was revealed.  Then we quickly move to two high school girls one-upping each other on their knowledge of some, shared teen idol (“What’s his favorite smell?  You don’t know, do you?”).  Future snippets include a man graphically describing over a dinner date his research that involves ripping off chicken heads, a guy confronting his boss for firing him via email (“Just tell me I am fired … Can’t you do that?”), a knitting grandma telling a little girl a fantasy story (“And then the lion ate him”), and a man and woman stuffing envelopes serenaded by “Oh Happy Day.”  A few are actually quite funny (like one person rattling off the word ‘table’ in many languages to the bland observation of the other, “But I guess it is still just a table to me”).  Some scenes last into the 3-5 minute length and almost become intriguing in the story unfolding (e.g., two, dining ex-lovers who are recalling their past with neither man able to recognize the significant moments remembered by the other or a woman doing all she can to help a man with apparent amnesia re-discover she is his wife).  But these, like most scenes short or long, end with no resolution and often no real meaning at all, which -- after the thirtieth, fortieth or fiftieth -- becomes somewhat frustrating.  The most persistent ending to scenes is a doorbell, a knock, or just an amble off the stage mid-sentence or thought.

The cast itself is stellar in reputation, many of whom are well known and loved by Bay Area audiences.  However, there is not much chance for most of them really to shine in any one role; and remembering who played what part, when (even for well-recognized actors) is next to impossible by evening’s end.

If Love and Information was chosen to show off the possibilities of the new Strand Theatre with its big stage in a rather intimate setting, its video and sound capabilities, and its opportunity for A.C.T. to venture into newer, more risky works than its larger Geary stage allows, then the choice worked.  If the purpose of Caryl Churhill’s Love and Information is to illustrate how dulled and over-loaded we will all become when bombarded repeatedly and seemingly without end with short amounts of unconnected information, then she has totally succeeded in A.C.T.’s inaugural production at the Strand.  If, however, the production is also supposed to be engrossing, entertaining, and exciting, then I fear it falls way short of meeting intentions.  Ninety minutes and fifty-seven scenes unfortunately all add up to not much at all.

Rating: 2 E’s

Love and Information continues at American Conservatory Theatre’s Strand Theatre, 1127 Market Street, through August 9, 2015.  Tickets are available online at http://www.act.sf.org/home/box_office/mainstage/love_and_information.html

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