Caryl Churchill (Top Girls, Serious Money, Cloud 9) is a playwright's playwright. Her plays are required reading for serious students of western theatre and, fortunately, they happen to be very good. A production of Churchill's usually won't leave the audience feeling warm and fuzzy, but will certainly leave them with questions they didn't have before they arrived for the show.
This production is no different. Love and Information is a series of vignettes - some no longer than 30 seconds, others much longer - that pertain to the two nouns in the title. Some situations chosen by the playwright are obvious fits: lovers keeping secrets from one another, a mother revealing a family secret to her son. Others require more thought, and deal with depression and other mental disorders.
Although surely there is a reason for the order of scenes, it's not immediately evident, and the playwright herself stipulates within the play that directors should feel free to order the scenes as they see fit. This leads to things feeling willy-nilly, but after about ten minutes of the show you begin to realize that confusion and its quick follow-up - frustration - are the exact emotional responses required to grasp Churchill's theme.
"Theme" is a tricky word in theatre; too much of an obvious agenda and even the theatre smart set will write the show off as pandering or even - worst of the worst - boring. Yet Churchill is making us think about how important communication is to everyone around us, especially the ones we love. That could get maudlin, or annoying.
Yet James Macdonald's inspired direction won't stand for maudlin. It is exactly what Churchill's scenes need: it's super-quick, brilliantly lighted, and simply but strikingly staged. The entire technical team should take a bow after each performance - the show is stunningly good in its design. This, and Macdonald's clever staging, never lets the playwright's agenda - if she admits to having one - bask in the spotlight. He surrounds her smart words with his smart world, forcing the dialogue to fly off the stage and knock us on the forehead without apology. And both love and information, at least in the Minetta Lane Theatre where this production is staged - fly hard enough and fast enough to result in a few black eyes even in the nosebleed seats.
The cast is as quick and as stellar as one can ask for; there are no leading roles or character names, just players in the many scenes. They are generous with one another, with no one trying to steal a moment that doesn't belong to them. Even so, Karen Kandel cuts a seriously dramatic swath across the stage, and Randy Danson gives her second standout off-Broadway performance this season - the first being as the cantankerous but gifted teacher in Chad Becklin's wonderful piece, And Miles to Go.
Looking around the theatre during the first fifteen minutes of this production, this reviewer was happy to see engaged, surprised audience members. It was clear they were enjoying the show's quick exchanges and striking beauty. But those same faces seemed weary an hour-and-forty-minutes later, their patience stretched thin with so many (too many?) scenes and no storyline.
It was, purposefully, too much information about information. Yet that was the goal - to overload, to agitate, to needle and knuckle so that by the end the audience was shifting in its seat. It was difficult not to shout, "Stay put!" For when it comes to love and information, too much is never enough.
For tickets: www.ticketmaster.com
Love and Information, by Caryl Churchill
Directed by: James Macdonald
New York Theatre Workshop in association with the Royal Court Theatre
The Minetta Lane Theatre
18-22 Minetta Lane
With: Phillip James Brannon, Randy Danson, Susannah Flood, Noah Galvin, Jennifer Ikeda, Karen Kandel, Irene Sofia Lucio, Nate Miller, Kellie Overbey, Adante Power, John Procaccino, Luca Caleb Rooney, Maria Tucci, James Waterston, Zoe Winters
Scenic Design: Miriam Buether
Costume Design: Gabriel Berry and Andrea Hood
Lighting Design: Peter Mumford
Sound Design: Christopher Shutt
Production Stage Manager: Christine Catti
Music Direction: David Dabbon
Dialect Coach: Kate Wilson
Assistant Stage Manager: Alison DeSantis