Throughout the nearly two-hour running time of Love and Information, the new play by Caryl Churchill, I experienced a disconnect between James Macdonald’s production, which is whizz-bang, and the play itself, which is fairly trite and unaffecting. My response, I suppose, could be a sign of the social environment that Churchill’s contemporary characters inhabit: a fast-moving internet age in which information bombardment can lead to the decay of feeling.
I could happily have stood my lack of emotional response had anything in Churchill’s work pushed me to think about her proudly un-linear presentation in a fresh way. Yet the slick flow of desultory conversations resembles nothing so much as walking down a crowded big-city street and overhearing snatches of chat along the way: this one is talking about sex, that one is worried about cats, a third mentions God.
Love and Information, which premiered at London’s Royal Court in 2012, and has been re-cast here with New York actors by director Macdonald and New York Theatre Workshop, once again displays Churchill in the midst of a formal experiment. In 57 scenes with 100 characters, Churchill never approaches anything very thoughtful: there isn’t time.
Even when the topic is terrorism or terminal disease, the treatment is glancing. And in fact the more intellectual the subject – an elderly woman banters with a waiter about non-English words for “table” – the more I felt a point was not being insisted upon.
Such dramaturgy doesn’t give the expert actors, of various ages and ethnicities, much direct matter to convey. They must play a kind of non-naturalistic subtext, and, truth to tell, they seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely: among the more intrepid practitioners are Karen Kandel, Kellie Overbey and Maria Tucci. They undergo a workout.
My workout: I spent the first half-hour wondering exactly where, in the tight backstage of the Minetta Lane Theatre, there was room for all the props – a beanbag for sitting on, stationary cycles, myriad chairs. And I also, as the scenes themselves failed to ignite much interest, imagined just how the actors managed to whisk themselves on and off so dexterously. But such terrific stagecraft, which includes ingenious transitional sound effects, didn’t do nearly enough to erase the feeling that Churchill composed each scene as almost a writerly exercise rather than as part of an overall work that deliberately accumulates – or doesn’t accumulate – into an engaging play.