This is a most peculiar play, but in a very good way. It’s more about its form than its content. And that’s what makes it one of Forum Theatre’s most fascinating offerings.
The famously unorthodox British playwright Caryl Churchill has in Love and Information defied just about every theatrical convention you can name: Be it character, plot, theme, continuity, place, situation, point of view, or whatever, all the customary building blocks of drama have here come tumbling down, toppled by the author of Top Girls, leaving a playroom strewn with lacunas. Churchill’s cryptic text consists of a nonlinear series of some 60 vignettes and mini-sketches, some as short as a sentence, all devoid of stage directions or indications of who says what. This gives the actors, director, and designers carte blanche to invent who’s who and where and why they say what they do. The heady result leaves completely to the imagination of the audience what it all “means.” It’s like watching improv with performers making up everything except their lines.
Under the exhilaratingly inspired direction of Artistic Director Michael Dove, the show has a ridiculously gifted cast of fourteen—Kathleen Akerley, Moriamo Akibu, Edward Christian, Samy El-Noury, Megan Graves, Laura C. Harris, Nanna Ingvarsson, Jade Jones, Ahmad Kamal, Lilian Oben, Jared Shamberger, Ryan Tumulty, Emily Whitworth, and Shpend Xani. Briefly, they appear on the fly in groups of two, three, or more as some 100-odd characters they invented, in discontinuous scenarios based on text from the barebones script.
The cast is backed by a design team on creative overdrive. Costume Designer Frank Labovitz gives each character a specificity the author never specified. Lighting Designer Billy D’Eugenio frames each vignette upon the wide stage in a particular place never designated. Set Designer Andrew Cohen supplies beds, tables, and other set pieces never called for in the script. Projection Designer Patrick Lord throws on vast screens an original montage of images evoking technology, nature, linguistic disintegration. Sound Designer Roc Lee clues our ears to precise locations with evocative audio bridges in between.
At first, the scenes seem to have nothing to do with one another—as indeed they don’t—like a sensory overload of randomized moments from modern life.
Slowly but surely, though, the magic in this mad method begins to emerge. The payoff in the production’s seeming purposelessness is in the way it teases our truncated attention spans. No need to remember and reflect anymore; there’s only going to be more data to overwrite what just happened. Cleverly the show caters to exactly the way life in the 21st-century Information Age makes of our minds a catchall so distracted by one think hole after another that we no longer know nor much care how dots are connected.
Under the onslaught of today’s stimulus overload, our minds come to lack the solidity and cogency of even Swiss cheese. Instead, they more resemble a skeltering of Cheetos and Cheez-Its.
When Marshall McLuhan famously said, “The medium is the message,” he meant that our apprehension of content today is mediated through form so much that form means more and matters more. Form is content. What’s brilliant about Forum Theatre’s riveting realization of Caryl Churchill’s Love and Information is that formally there is more to the show than the particulars you get and the impressions you leave with. Only after this total immersion in the fragmentary and fractured does one realize what a myriad of vividly imagined performances one has been privy to—what embodied human instants the actors have come up with and shared. That they have all been so recognizably full of emotion comes like a clarifying respite from the senseless detachment of information overstimulation.
All of which makes for one heckuva fun brain game.
Running TIme: One hour 50 minutes, with no intermission.
Love and Information runs through October 21, 2017, at Forum Theatre, performing at the Silver Spring Black Box Theatre – 8641 Colesville Road, in Silver Spring, MD. For tickets, call (301) 588-8270, or purchase them online.