Love and Information
Love and Information
by Caryl Churchill
Directed by Casey Stangl
A.C.T at The Strand, San Francisco
While in San Francisco recently, I watched Love and Information, the most recent play by writer Caryl Churchill, whose work I’d read while studying film and theatre at NYU — in particular I remembered a play called Cloud Nine which I recalled as being very formally innovative.
I hadn’t planned on going to the theatre, but saw a poster for it while walking past The Strand, the playhouse where it was being performed, on the way to my morning shuttle to work.
The play was first produced in London’s Royal Court Theatre in 2012. I know nothing about that production and given that I’m writing this on a plane without WiFi I can’t find out anything about it either but, in some ways, that’s fine, it’ll help me write specifically about this particular production.
Why does it matter?
Churchill’s work has always been unconventional, pushing the boundaries of what a play looks like on the page and enabling directors a wide degree of latitude of how they mount the production.
She has evidently taken this to a greater extreme with Love and Information, the script of which dispensed with everything except alternating lines of dialogue — no scene headings, no character names, no directions, and no notes.
The play is comprised of 57 vignettes, some as short as 5 seconds, none longer than 5 minutes, in which a few, generally unnamed characters, exchanged words with each other and, in a notable scene, one character talks to a past version of himself — without having the script in front of me, it’s hard to know if it was written this way or simply the way the director chose to stage it.
The dramaturgy is a more vital component than usual here, given the spare, wide-open script and the director, Casey Stengl, chose to embrace the physical and psychographic location of the theatre, Market Street in San Francisco — two blocks down the street from Twitter’s HQ; opposite the California Arts Institute, the plaza of which is major congregation point for the city’s homeless population — it’s also a part of town frequented heavily by tourists.
The set design takes its cue from the amorphous script and is itself a nearly blank canvas: a lighting grid above comprised of primary colored lights that when all turned on simultaneously produce a white square on the floor, center stage; the back of which is dominated by an LED screen onto which images are projected, starting with the audience themselves as they filter into the room and later, scenes from the stage itself, filmed in realtime from a different angle, or pre-filmed scenes that interplay with what’s happening on stage, or simply backdrops of the city — some static, others time-lapsed; stage left and right have parallel sets of doors, painted black
The lobby of the theatre is similarly dominated by an LED screen and, in Brechtian fashion, the performance began there, as we were waiting to enter — with SMS exchanges playing across the screen (these would later reveal themselves to be scenes from the play, acted out in the screen based vernacular of our time) and members of the cast insinuating themselves into the audience, engaging the odd bout of coordinated sneezing fits or dancing out loud to music only they could hear on their earbuds.
So…what did it all mean?
One of the scenes fairly explicitly states the play’s theme: two men are in a bar, having a heated discussion about a relationship with a woman that one of them has embarked on. The one in the relationship insisting that it is the most meaningful of his life, the other, incredulous, saying it’s impossible as the woman is virtual, an A.I. — projected onto the screen behind them an endless series of 1’s and 0’s
Love…and information — it’s in the title.
While waiting in the lobby, the screen had juxtaposed these 1’s and 0’s against an equally series of DNA sequences.
The vignettes explore every conceivable variation of this: people who have information, those who want it from them — and does so in the context of religion (“God spoke to me.” “You heard his voice? Does he have, like, an accent?”), politics, and family. Moments when people are alone and others where they are together — but, crucially, the points of true human connection are few and far between. In the world of play, as in our own, the world is mediated by screens.
Perhaps the most poignant scene is between two men who had once been lovers and who meet again after many years. They each recall moments from their time together, yet, when they speak them out loud, neither can remember the memory that the other cites.
The play itself is similarly slippery. The 12 cast members cycle through well over 100 different characters, some of them (intentionally?) blurring into each other. With so many individual scenes, some playing out just on stage, others just screen and others yet an interplay between stage and screen, it’s hard to hang on to them — those that do stand out do so for their sensationalism (a shocking family confession) or their poignancy (as noted above) or their humor. Consequently, one has to satisfy oneself with the overall impression that the play makes.
More than anything else, Love and Information reminds me of Jean-Luc Godard’s most recent film, and the most powerful, affecting film I’ve seen in a long time, Goodbye to Language (http://imdb.to/1DvLVkO), which similarly seeks interrogate the meaning of human relationships in world where communication is mediated by screens, big and small, including the one you’re watching film itself on.
(It’s also a love letter to his dog).