What a lovely gift Main Street Theater gives us in honor of St. Valentine's Day: Caryl Churchill's delightful Love and Information (2012), redolent as a bouquet of deep red roses, heady as a glass of Veuve Clicquot, sweet as a bonbon.
It's all about communication: misunderstood, cross-wired, lost in translation, direct. Modern communication only. This is a play about today. There's no quill and parchment, no mailbox, not even a typewriter for these folks to use to connect with each other. Everyone's in flux, as is our world that's beset by high-tech gizmos: laptops, texting, video, cell phones. Everything's quick and razor sharp.
This impressionistic romp through the human heart skips all around, beating soundly, as it lightly touches on how we talk to each other, usually in the most oblique ways, yet we all somehow manage to land our arrows even when not aiming squarely. Who's got time to talk about love? Startlingly, the semaphore gets pride of place as (what I assume to be) the play's title is crisply spelled out right at the beginning. The flags disappear, never to be seen again. We're off and panting.
In 60 or so very short scenes – some are one sentence long; one is completely silent as a couple stares at each other across a table – love makes itself felt even as words fail. There are punch lines and punches to the gut; a few scenes are cryptic at first but will impress later; a scant few fall flat because precious words get garbled, but their impact still survives. Let's move, let's go, Churchill says.
Once we get into the play's rushing flow, we lean in close, knowing nothing will last very long and we want to hear every word. Except for a husband and wife who make repeat appearances as their short story is intermittently revealed, we never see the same characters twice. Today is a blur, the playwright winks at us; our attention span needs tweaking.
Are we better for it? Perhaps not, for the problems in communications from the heart don't really depend on technology. We're tongue-tied even with Grammar Check and Auto Spell. Verities are eternal.
We meet a panoply of characters: teen girls devastated that they can't find out online what their teen idol's favorite smell is; a geneticist bored at her job reading DNA codes; a guy who can't feel pain; a former couple reliving past memories; gay lovers on a bench; a man with perfect recall; someone who's fallen in love with a virtual reality woman; a daughter who finds out who her sister really is; a scientist who dissects chicken brains; a manic girlfriend who can't appreciate the gift of a simple rose; a survivor of a lover's (?) sudden death; a man who doesn't remember his wife; a couple reliving their wedding only through video; a mom retelling a gothic horror tale; two boys in a tent looking at a snail; a guy who seems most alive when off medication; people of all types missing messages right in front of them; students studying for math...
The list goes on, each one surprising and full of detail even when we don't know anything more about who these people are. We start adding details of our own, filling in the ellipses we assume we need, which is probably Churchill's other sly method to keep us enthralled with her shifting ADD kaleidoscope. We want to know what happened before as well as after to each of the characters. It's quite deft and charming.
In a black box type of arrangement at Main Street, we're adrift in space. Sparse and elegant, Ryan McGettigan's light-tinged outlines are set against black, filled only with essentials: a bed, a trio of plastic chairs, one plush chair. When these settings have been used, whoosh, the actors move them away and other actors bring on another variation: a couch replaces the bed, a cafe table, a picnic basket for an alfresco rendezvous. We keep drifting, no waste, no time to waste. Director Philip Hays overlays Churchill with playful style; he winks at us, too, giving this contempo play a revealing mod touch. Macy Lyne's costumes are up to date; Phil Kong's lighting is prickly; and Alex Worthington's sound design, like the best of an old Hollywood film score, stays in the background to drop hints where needed.
Not to leave anyone out, here are the 13 actors who bounce around like pachinko balls (talk about the pre-video game era!): Rebecca Bivens, Brittny Bush, Greg Cote, Patricia Duran, Dain Geist, Haley Hussey, Jovan Jackson, Shelby Marie, Brandon Morgan, Mateo Mpinduzi-Mott, Regina Ohashi, Molly Searcy and David Wald. All are marvelously clueless, in love, crazy or crazed as they must be, before they reappear as someone else who's clueless, in love, crazy or crazed. They bring glee.
So get off your cells, and no more texting for an hour and a half. There's a fresh fragrance emanating from Main Street. Take time to smell the human roses.
Love and Information continues through March 5 at Main Street Theater, 2540 Times. For more information, call 713-524-6706 or visit mainstreettheater.com. $26-$39.