A Fun, Frustrating Puzzle: “Love and Information”

You’re probably reading this review on an electronic device.

That’s fitting, because the play in question — a new one from Caryl Churchill, one of our greatest living  playwrights – is about what you’re doing. And about me writing  on such a device.

We’re the first humans to have smart phones, laptops, tablets, to use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. They didn’t exist 30 years ago, and already they’re universal.

loveinfob

Also universal — but some 200,000 years old, as old as our species — is our dual need to know our world, and to connect with each other.  Love and information. We need them to survive. We seek them both, all the time, in every waking moment. And now we’re doing it online, taking in a worldwide flood of words, images and sounds — while the places we live and work in, and the people around us, also keep pouring their information toward us just as they’ve always done.

Are we overloaded? Do the memes and sound bites, texts and tweets, and the daily world surrounding us, now flow in so fast we can’t process them? Are we losing our balance as we scramble to take it all in — real world plus virtual world — trying respond, and to grasp some kind of meaning?

Could be. In Love and Information, Churchill invites us to see a play, then presents a rapid-fire mock-up of the worlds rushing in on our senses every day. And the experience leaves us gasping, shocked, amused, confused … and scrambling.

“Was that even a play?” patrons ask. “It was fun, but there were no characters!” “Well, there were, but they didn’t stay around long enough.” “Did any of them show up more than once?” “Was there a story?”

The scrappy troupe known as Son of Semele gives Churchill’s script a stunning, stylish production. It’s bright, fast, funny — and yes, disturbing.

Against walls in clean, bright primary colors, a single huge set piece revolves. It looks like the remains of a giant Rubik’s cube smashed by a frustrated player. Several flatscreens bloom on its surfaces, each constantly playing. As the lights flash suddenly on, then off, actors in twos and threes perform some four dozen scenes, none lasting more than a minute or two.

In each piece, people are struggling with information, trying to find out, fact-check, interview, interrogate, repeat, analyze, explain, hide. And they’re struggling with themselves to find clarity, certainty,  friendship, revenge, love, forgiveness. We see some beginnings, mid-moments, what seem to be endings … but the only way it all comes together is in our minds, as we chew it over.

This is truly an ensemble piece. Audience members have trouble naming any characters afterward (“the writer,” “the couple in the bed”, “the woman who spoke French”). But the actors are all at the top of their game, invoking sharply individual portraits in a matter of seconds, without stereotypes, and shifting their roles — and the scenery — with balletic precision and speed.

Director Matthew McCray does an amazing job. Taking the teasing fragments of Churchill’s script, he leads his cast and crew (scene design: Drew Foster, lights: Chu-hsuan Chang, videos: Keith Skretch) to weave the bright bits into a cohesive — if not exactly coherent — experience, one you won’t soon forget.

Love and Information is almost an anti-play. It’s a theatrical adventure that counts on our inborn needs to connect with characters and learn the story, and uses them against us. Churchill and the Son of Semele players use their peerless artistic skills to make us feel fascinated, amused — yet in the end disconcerted, confused, even cheated of what we came for.

And thus they make us think — and think hard — about the world we’re taking for granted outside the theatre. What else is theatre for?
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Love and Information, by Caryl Churchill, directed by Matthew McCray.
Presented by the Son of Semele Ensemble, at Son of Semele Theatre, 3301 Beverly Blvd., LA 90004.
The Ensemble: Richard Azurdia, Darren Bailey, Melina Bielefelt, Daniel Getzoff, Michael Evens Lopez, Betsy Moore, Cindy Nguyen, Sarah Rosenberg, Ashley Steed, Dan Via, Alexander Wells.

Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00, Sundays at 5:00, through Dec. 6;
finale performance Monday, Dec. 7 at 7:00.

Tickets: <https://sonofsemele.secure.force.com/ticket>