Love Song, New Ambassadors Theatre, London

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Can you believe John Kolvenbach’s Love Song? If you can, then this play, new this spring in Chicago, is an adorable, touching, funny, painful, and blissfully short (90 minutes) one-act American big-city tale of the value in love of fantasy. Kolvenbach has written a number of plays: his On An Average Day ran here in 2002 with Woody Harrelson and Kyle MacLachlan.

The protagonist here, Beane (Cillian Murphy), is a psychologically troubled young man, whose inner life is dark, claustrophobic, paranoid – until love enters it. Love renders him loquacious, imaginative, enthusiastic, lit up from within, happily crazy. We see him in his apartment, and we see him visiting his married sister Joan (Kristen Johnston) and her husband Harry (Michael McKean). Joan and Harry are very sane indeed, and the larger part of the play is taken up by their banter, large chunks of which are about Beane. His love rubs off on them, and they have a big set-piece scene when they play hookey from work and stay home to flirt together. Trouble is: has Beane merely fallen in love with a woman (Neve Campbell) he has imagined?

Kolvenbach is a good professional entertainer: he gets the audience laughing repeatedly in the first five minutes, he sets up a strong dark/bright contrast between Beane’s life and Joan’s, and the funniest and most unhappy scenes all occur towards the end. The performances, directed by John Crowley, are all vivid: Murphy does good pathos as Beane, Johnson and McKean are engaging clowns.

It’s a good story. As Kolvenbach tells it, however, it’s never quite believable. Joan and Harry don’t resemble real people so much as cute couples from innumerable TV sitcoms; Beane is a strongly shown but stereotypical example of the troubled, vulnerable nutcase all on his own in the big, bad city. For all the attention it gives to Beane’s distress, it’s an entirely painless play, and that’s what it means to be. It wants you to say “How thought-
provoking, how moving, how hilarious”, before you rush off to your after-show dinner and forget about it for the rest of your life.
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