Finding a partner isn’t easy. Staying with one is even harder.
No surprise, really. Unless we grew up in a home created by a strong, loving partnership, we may never have seen one. Really seen it, close up and personal enough to know how it works.
Yet most of us try it anyway.
One new-minted couple, a pair of LA theatre artists, were unwilling to fly in the dark. So Brooke Bishop (City Shakespeare’s artistic director) and Daniel Landberg (a composer and tech consultant) quit their jobs and drove around the country for a month, coast to coast, talking with 50 couples who’d enjoyed long, successful relationships.
The result was, for them, a new sense of clarity and confidence. And for us — after months of work, using the Tectonic Theatre’s process for creating The Laramie Project — their play How Love Lasts, a quiet, immersive piece that’s just had its world-premiere run.
How Love Lasts interweaves five of the stories Bishop and Landberg heard, for 80 minutes in an intimate setting (22 audience seats, plus nine for the actors). In overlapping turns, the lovers tell their stories.
Such storytelling seems untheatrical — no protagonist, no building conflict or dramatic climax, not even a peak event (such as Laramie‘s public trial). Bishop, as director, wisely led her cast in Tectonic’s “non-verbal moment” technique, so that each couple’s relating takes on clear physical forms.
But it’s the drama within each story that holds us. No couple goes unscathed, and the trials they encounter are real “deal-breakers.” Yet they all find a way through. Even Jan, whose partner Marsha was stolen by cancer after only a few years, found she couldn’t just “move on.” Instead, “I sort of took her inside me and became us.”
The play’s text is verbatim from the interviews (with only a brief voice-over introduction). And the six actors each play more than one role. Again, Bishop wisely plays it close to the chest. Small cues — a sweater, a hairdo, an actor walking toward the next space — let most of the change emerge in the way a character carries herself, the way he looks at his mate. The actors accomplish this subtly and clearly.
The audience this night ranges from youthful singles to two couples in their 70s. All are engaged, attentive (though one senior nods a bit), caught by these characters and eager to hear what works, what gets them through.
How Love Lasts takes an inventive tack in addressing a question that’s near-universal in our culture (and on our screens and stages.) It goes immeasurably beyond any rom-com, reaching real depth swiftly and surely, always treating its characters with respect. Its outcome is comic, in the classical sense, because these loves survive; but it gets there by facing the tragedies that beset us all when we dare to love.
Bishop and Landberg have opened what I hope will be an ongoing theatrical conversation. How Love Lasts stands on it own, and deserves further runs, here and elsewhere. But it also suggests other questions — How does love end? Or fail to come together? How do parents and children, or siblings, find ways to sustain trust and intimacy through life’s huge challenges?
Theatre tries to explore such key questions in our domestic lives — but we don’t need any more kitchen-sink dramas. We do need to ask real people for permission to borrow their lives and words, and to weave their stories around themes that matter. Thanks to Bishop and Landberg — and their troupe — for getting the process started.
How Love Lasts, by Brooke Bishop and Daniel Landberg, directed by Brooke Bishop.
Presented by Bishop and Landberg, at Red Gate Recorders, 4440 York Blvd., LA 90041.
The Company: Claudia Crook, Eduardo Fernandez-Baumann, David Hartstone, Briana McLean, Samantha Smart, Paul Weinberg.
BULLETIN (22 February 2016) —
After their first sucessful run,
How Love Lasts is being re-staged at Red Gate Recorders.
Thursdays at 8:00, through March 24.
Tickets: Pay What You Want, <www.howlovelasts.com/live-show>