Reviews

I Love You So Much I Could Die **1/2

By: Samuel L. Leiter

February 18, 2024: On Thursday, a day after seeing Corinne Jaber’s Munich Medea: Happy Family at the WP Theatre, I wrote about my disappointment at its being entirely written for three actors who ignore dialogue in favor of delivering expository monologues. However, on Thursday night, I was even more put off by Mona Pirnot’s similarly undramatic use of monologues in I Love You So Much I Could Die, at the New York Theatre Workshop. 

Mona Pirnot

By: Samuel L. Leiter

February 18, 2024: On Thursday, a day after seeing Corinne Jaber’s Munich Medea: Happy Family at the WP Theatre, I wrote about my disappointment at its being entirely written for three actors who ignore dialogue in favor of delivering expository monologues. However, on Thursday night, I was even more put off by Mona Pirnot’s similarly undramatic use of monologues in I Love You So Much I Could Die, at the New York Theatre Workshop. 

In this “play,” written by Pirnot and directed by her husband, rising playwright Lucas Hnath (Red Speedo), there is only one actor, Pirnot herself, but her monologues, nearly devoid of dramatic conflict, are not delivered as direct address, as they usually would be in a conventional one-person show. Instead, Pirnot, casually dressed by Enver Chakartash, sits facing upstage at a table on the NYTW’s large, empty, brick-walled stage, in an arrangement designed by Mimi Lien. 

Mona Pirnot

Pirnot’s table is equipped with a small lamp to her right and a glowing laptop to her left. An acoustic guitar rests nearby and a loudspeaker connected to the laptop stands a few feet away. Both the stage and houselights (designed by Oona Curley) remain on, but gradually dim as the play progresses.

We never hear Pirnot’s natural voice, her words having been fed into a text-to-speech program that delivers them from the loudspeaker in a nearly affectless male voice for 65 minutes; the words spoken are noted (for those with perfect sight) by the cursor running across the laptop screen. This gimmicky device is related to Hnath’s current preoccupation with the use of sound technology in his stage work, as in his Dana H. and A Simulacrum

What Pirnot offers is a straightforward narrative, usually clearly intelligible, but occasionally marked by a mildly eccentric, perhaps borderline poetic, syntax, and quirky rhythms, that convey something of the speaker/writer’s personality over the course of five segments. At times, long passages are spoken rapidly as if written as a single word, requiring close attention to follow; still, some images will fly by undigested. Sandwiched between each text segment are gentle, almost lullaby-level, folksy songs, often barely audible, that Pirnot—still facing away from us—sings while accompanying herself on the guitar. 

Mona Pirnot

Again, practically all we see of Pirnot throughout is her long, silkily blond hair cascading down her back. Being forced to stare for so long at such a yawningly dull sight soon had me imagining I saw a face staring dimly out from inside the shiny hair; if you know what hypertrichosis looks like, you’ll get the idea.

The work’s emotional riptides, effectively smothered by the dispassionate presentation, run through an autobiographical narrative about grief, loss, and, as the title notes, love, that begins with the speaker’s search for an appropriate online support group. It slowly becomes clear that she needs help dealing with a trauma connected to a beloved sister’s severe, albeit vaguely described, health issues, which erupted at the onset of the Covid pandemic. The sister is cared for by their parents in Florida, to which the totally dedicated Pirnot travels, when need be, from New York. 

Before settling on writing this play for its therapeutic value, she seeks other ways of handling her sense of helplessness, like doing volunteer charity work, which provides her with little more than an anecdote. She reveals the mental tricks she uses to control her thoughts, talks about her searching for answers in books, and finds valuable the advice to think about love, not loss. We learn of how she met and fell in love with Lucas Hnath (not named), who provides selfless support; of the complications in her sister’s case precipitated by the pandemic; of how the text-to-speech program has aided her emotionally; and, of her response to a different—if tenuously related—loss concerning a family pet.

Mona Pirnot

Pirnot’s performance—apart from her quiet, almost self-effacing singing—could itself be performed by a robot, so there’s no way to comment on it. On the other hand, the artificial voice has a kind of hypnotic effect that—because of its mechanical quality—lands a few funny remarks in a way that would likely have eluded a more committed human voice. 

All in all, though, this visually monotonous experimental performance—more an art installation than a play—sometimes found me drifting, unlike the written script, which held me throughout. Perhaps the next step in minimalist theatre would be a play that replaces the live performer with a large screen on which the script passes by as a mechanical voice says all the words. Given the wide range of similar theatrical experiments since the early 20th century, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone’s already done that, been there.

I Love You So Much I Could Die **1/2
New York Theatre Workshop
79 E. 4th Street, NYC
Through March 9, 2024
Photography: Jenny Anderson