“Love and Information” at New York Theatre Workshop at the Minetta Lane Theatre (Closed Sunday March 23, 2014)

February 19, 2014 | Off-Broadway | Tags:
Written by Caryl Churchill
Directed by James Macdonald
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.” I Corinthians 13:8 (NIV)

Sans a singular protagonist, sans a singular antagonist, sans clear conflicts, therefore sans plot, Caryl Churchill’s “Love and Information” depends on a singular trope to provide focus and interest in her new play. This is a risky business – defying the conventions of theatre – but a business which works on many levels to provide an hour and fifty minutes of slide-show scenes of information gone haywire and love’s labor a bit lost. That trope is exemplified in an affirmation made by one of the one hundred characters that comprise Churchill’s new New York Theatre Workshop play currently running at the Minetta Lane Theatre: “she’s just information.” Humankind, in other words, IS information.

To the playwright’s dramatic cauldron, add the “eye” of BuzzFeed, the “toe” of Digg, the “tail” of YouTube, and the “hair” of GMA’s Play-of-the-Day and Pop-News, stir briskly and savor the taste of the steroid laden brew called “Love and Information” which streaks across the visual field and plants itself firmly in the audience member’s psyche. The show’s kaleidoscopic vignettes seem (often at the same time) funny, odd, weird, confusing, intrusive, and precise and somehow manage to provide a plethora of information about the human condition – some useful, some useless.

Like all things gone viral, the feeling, the emotion, the meaning inherent in this information comes from the viewer, the one interloping, the spy, the peeping Tom, and the voyeur in all of us. As one character bemoans, in order to improve the mind and memory, one must “somehow acquire and retain stacks of information.” In the midst of this information overload, love sometimes intervenes: “It doesn’t hurt to know it. Information and also love.” Even what used to be “hard news” is now more information than news. Newscasters and political commentators now tell audiences what they need to know and what they need to feel about the information disseminated: they have become or in-loco voyeurs. They have taken away our right to sneak a peek. We laugh when they laugh, cry when they suggest we cry – they emote for us so we are free to “be informed.”

And as the audience acquires and retains the stacks of information provided in “Love and Information,” one occasionally hears above the din of information the faint mention of love. One character proclaims, “I really loved you then” but neither partner could agree on when the “then” was. Another character strives to get her partner to remember who she is despite her claims of love. “Do you love me?” asks one character as he feeds trivia questions to his partner. Her response, “Don’t do that.” But love “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres” (I Corinthians 13:7, NIV). Before responding with “Sea anemone” to his question “By what name do we usually refer to Oceanus Australensis Picardia?” she admits “I do yes I do.”

Caryl Churchill takes the risk to bombard her audience with a fusillade of scenes filled to overflowing with visual and sound bytes that require the audience’s undivided attention. This risk pays off in a culture where people cannot exist without cell phones. Miriam Buether’s set design and Christopher Shutt’s sound design artfully mimic the screens we cannot stop watching. If there is something to “Like on Facebook,” to “Tweet on Twitter,” to “Post on Instagram,” to “Pin to Pinterest we will watch it sine intermissio.

One downside to the production is its location. Because of the overwhelming success of “What’s It All About,” the New York Theatre Workshop needed to mount “Love and Information” at the Minetta Lane Theatre. Although this venue has the ability to provide all the technical needs of Ms. Churchill’s play, it has sight lines inadequate to fully enjoy the performance. Unless one is seated dead center, one is likely to miss a considerable amount of what is on stage; indeed, if seated far audience left or right, one will spend the one hundred ten minutes craning ones’ neck trying to catch a glimpse of what is playing out on the floor of the playing area.

That said, “Love and Information,” under the careful eye of director James Macdonald, is a delectable foray into the uber-information age. The ensemble cast handily portrays the one hundred characters. But despite the excellent performances and the diverse costumes designed by Gabriel Berry and Andrea Hood, the changeless persona of the actors and the re-iteration of wine glasses and chairs in the vignettes make it somewhat difficult to appreciate fully the effort of the outstanding cast. “Love and Information” is worth the visit.