“Chemistry of Love” at La MaMa First Floor Theatre

May 10, 2013 | Off-Broadway | Tags:
Written by Jill Campbell
Directed by George Ferencz
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Oscar Wilde’s belief that “Life imitates art, more than art imitates life” was confirmed during the performance of Jill Campbell’s “Chemistry of Love” currently playing at the La MaMa First Floor Theatre. As the cast struggled on stage to make sense of Ms. Campbell’s script about the meaning of making art and how the making of art counterpoints with the rise and fall of relationships, several audience members – completely confused or just completely insensitive to any attempt at creativity – concocted a few interesting love potions themselves.

Two young women decided to act inappropriately throughout the performance: they ate soup (passing the container back and forth) during the first act. They were, of course, right in the front row on the aisle. The same pair decided to block that aisle with their oversize hand bags which they regularly visited for a variety of items during both acts. At the end of the intermission, one pulled out a sizeable laptop, turned it on, and attached her cell phone for a much-needed charging. The laptop remained on for most of the second act until she determined the phone was fully charged whereupon she bent over and did all the disconnecting of USB paraphernalia and shut the unit down. Indeed, one cannot make this artsy stuff up. But there is more.

An inebriated man stumbled past me at the start of the intermission proclaiming with alcohol-laden breath, “Boy, that’s hard to watch.” He left his leather jacket on the seat and returned at some point during the second act from a different door, never reclaiming his seat or his jacket. I assume the second act was as difficult for him to process as was the first. It was for the rest of us. But there is more.

There was a group of attendees who knew each other: maybe producer types or families or one of those bunches of people whose assumed importance manages to disrupt any attempt at the creative process since what they are saying and doing is obviously more important than what might be happening on stage. One of these “dignitaries” decided, after nine minutes of the ten minute intermission, she needed to exit the theatre. As had the drunken man before her, she needed to push past me to exit. After the lights went down (and the computer screen), she needed to re-enter but instead of pushing past me again, one of her important friends rearranged the seats in the front row so she could sit down in the second. All this scuffling about occurred in the dark as the cast scuffled back on stage to challenge the audience one more time to “get” Ms. Campbell’s play.

Why such detail about audience antics? Unfortunately, there was little difference between what was going on in the audience and what was transpiring on stage. One wonders if what the actors were viewing deeply affected their performance. Life was imitating art imitating life imitating art, etc. One also wonders where the La MaMa staff was. A light board operator was above audience right and had to see the whole front row food fest. Why were these two not expelled from the theatre?

Undoubtedly, there was something important the creative team of “Chemistry of Love” wanted to explore. Absurdist theatre is not easy to produce. It needs rich round characters navigating interesting (not necessarily believable) conflicts. It also needs some thematic structure to interface with. These elements seemed missing in “Chemistry of Love” and what emerged seemed pretentious rather than pertinent.