Saturday, February 14, 2015

Short Attention Span Theater?

"Love and Information,” by Caryl Churchill.  Staged by Frank Theater Company, 2012 (2015)

You've never seen a play like this.  This 60-scene theater montage is a series of short stories, of theatrical haikus, of living tweets, some lasting less than a minute, some 5.  It’s as if a Facebook newsfeed came to life.  The form dominates over the content, though there are strands that run through the skits.  It is either a reflection of the state of our fractionated society, a parody of our fractionated society and an audience that can only digest tiny micro-bits at a time, or an example of post-modernism run amuck. The play hints that the way we conduct and absorb 'love and information' in the West now is not really working.
Churchill is a British playwright in her 70s, and some scenes reflect that British location, though it is meant to be more universal.  These are familiar poignant stories of aging and memory loss, damaged loners, hetero and homosexual love, the personal problems of technology and just plain randomness. 

A girl silently dances to unheard music on her iPod.  A woman explains to her boyfriend that sex is the transmission of genetic information.  Two elderly women attempt to improve their memories and one then remembers a scene from her childhood.  (Are we to remember all 60 scenes?)  Twice, a mathematician insists that mathematics reflects reality, while his wife says that all we have are our 5 senses.  Ultimately this philosophic argument is related to jealousy over the couple they are to visit.  Three girls shriek over some pop star and his missing info in a Tiger Beat-like magazine.  Two girls throw stones at a mentally disturbed boy.  A woman yells at her boss, telling her that she has to fire her face-to-face, not by e-mail.  An autistic or emotionally disturbed boy plays wonderful piano, and forgets what he has done.  Two married women decide to have an affair with each other.  A famous man hears a voice condemning him and worries if he will be found out with his gay lover.  Two men engage in a mysterious conversation at a coffee table.  A man falls in love with a digital woman and a woman tries to talk him out of it. (Prelude to movie "Her"?) A woman talks to her husband, who has Alzheimer's and does not recognize her any more.  She proposes sex, and he tells her she is an awful stranger.  Two girls argue at a Yoga class.  A couple warmly reminisce about their love affair, then grow cold towards each other.  A scientist describes to a janitor how she dissects chickens to discover their memory brain areas, then they embrace.  A woman having her hair done convinces the hair-dresser to tell her his big secret.  A rich woman has a very personal discussion with her daughter while trying on a new pair of shoes.  Her daughter is an emotional wreck in front of the shoe salesman.  A girl can’t sleep and decides to go on Facebook instead of having sex with her husband.  A crazy woman explains to her caregiver that she talked to God.  One maid tells another maid that her husband is unfaithful, and the maid knows and doesn't care.

And so on.  As you can see, not all of this hangs together thematically. 

Scene changes, as the lights go dark and the actors take their places on the almost empty stage, are through modern electronic pop music, the best being the NY street musician Moondog. Two times the large company of 14 lines up in rows, replicating the same moves that they are about to do in their skits. These expressive physical gestures form a link from the massed ensemble to the body movements in the individual micro-scenes.  Once the cast assembles for a call and response, offering answers to absurd factual questions put to them by a game-show host / professor.  I think these 3 scenes were added by Frank Theater. 

The Minneapolis Star Tribune’s Tillotsin missed the point of the play – something about how we mis-communicate, but still ‘kiss and makeup.’  (!)  Others insist it is all about the weaknesses of technology as a real connector.  Others about the failure of love. These are there, but I think it reflects the dearth of any overriding artistic understanding of the world.  Instead of a criticism of the isolating effects of technology and the Twitter-like avalanche of almost random information on human relations, it actually replicates that isolation and avalanche on stage. 

And I saw it at the Ritz Theater in Northeast Minneapolis
Red Frog
February 14, 2015

Happy Valentine’s Day.  Love helps us survive. 

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