By: David Sheward
Every time there’s a new play from Caryl Churchill, you can expect something different. From the gender-bending antics of Cloud 9 to the political and fantasy mash-ups of Mad Forest to the madness-in-verse of Serious Money, the works of this inventive B
ritish dramatist stretch our expectations of what a play can be and challenge our ideas about culture and social interaction. Her latest piece, Love and Information, now at the Minetta Lane Theatre in a production from New York Theatre Workshop, is no less daring and is perhaps the perfect play for these scattered, attention-deficit times.
Set in Miriam Buether’s narrow, graph paper-lined box of a set, the two-hour play consists of 50-odd unrelated vignettes, each running no more than a few minutes. The 15-member cast plays all manner of distracted modern citizens attempting to gain information, love, or some combination thereof. Two squealing teenagers battle over their idol’s favorite smell. A runaway wife returns to her unforgiving husband. A woman cannot cope with being in the country without Internet access. A wealthy couple quarrel over getting together with friends they each dislike for different reasons. A downsized executive angrily confronts his supervisor. One segment about a man having an affair with a virtual woman is a little too similar to Her (though the play premiered in London in 2012 before Her’s release).
The segments are grouped by numbers; a final extended segment is introduced with a mysterious plus sign. The groupings seem to reflect general themes such as secrets, language, memory, and emotions. In the final, plus-sign segment, a woman is quizzed by her boyfriend on arcane trivia. When he interrupts the cram session to tell her he loves her, she angrily demurs, "Don’t do that." But she soon returns his affection in the middle of the questioning.
It’s difficult to grasp Churchill’s overall intention, as each of the mini-dramas is separate and unique. She appears to be saying that despite the 21st-century overload of data, the hunger for tenderness is the same as in the days of the telegraph and print newspaper. But the point is made early on, and, despite a marvelous cast and ingenious direction by James Macdonald, the rapid relay of scenes grows tedious after about 90 minutes. The effect is like binging on YouTube clips. Churchill could have cut 15 to 20 of the segments and gotten a tighter transmission of her point.
Macdonald surmounts the script’s challenges with amazing dexterity. Interspersed with Christopher Shutt’s eclectic sound score, the scenes are fluidly and quickly staged. The setting and actors appear and disappear like tricks in a magic act. The versatile company-which includes veterans Maria Tucci, Randy Danson, Karen Kandel, and John Procaccino, as well as newcomers Noah Galvin and Zoe Winters-conveys the complex emotions in a matter of seconds, sometimes with only a line or two of dialogue. Susannah Flood is particularly moving as the returning wife, pouring a lifetime of sorrow into a few moments. Too bad she gets lost in the onslaught of images.
Feb. 19-April 6. Minetta Lane Theatre, 18 Minetta Lane, NYC. Tue-Wed 7pm, Thu-Fri 8pm, Sat 3pm & 8pm, Sun 2pm & 7pm. Running time 2 hours with no intermission. $65-85. (212) 719-4200. www.ticketmaster.com
Photo: Joan Marcus