Caryl Churchill’s “Love and Information” at Harlequin might well be the strangest play you’ll see this year.
It defies all expectations of what a stage play should be. I see it more as performance art, a fast-moving collage of vignette-like scenes.
These scenes or “sections,” as the playwright calls them, might or might not be related in any way, and according to stage directions in the script, the sections can be performed in any order. There are more than 50 scenes with approximately 100 characters played by seven actors.
According to director’s notes in the program, there are seven sections, and each section contains seven scenes. Most likely audience members will not be able to see this grouping or patterning of sections. What they, like me, are likely to see are madcap flashes of scenes that zoom by like rockets, with many unnamed characters whose relationships with one another change from scene to scene, as excellently acted by the ensemble cast.
“Love and Information” is directed by Aaron Lamb, who was in “The 39 Steps,” which also had a handful of actors playing more than 100 parts. Fittingly, Alyssa Kay, an actor in this play, was also in “The 39 Steps” — so they are old hands at playing multiple parts.
Other actors are: Fox Rain Matthews, who is married to Kay and was in “Three Days of Rain” with her; Skylar Bastedo, a talented professional with 20 years work in children’s theater, in his first performance at Harlequin; Gerald B. Browning, known to Harlequin regulars for his roles in “The 1940s Radio Hour” and “The Love List”; Nicholas Main, an Olympia native in his first appearance on the Harlequin stage; and Shauntal Pyper and Janet Spencer, both seasoned professionals in their Harlequin debuts.
Jeannie Beirne’s scenic design and John Serembe’s video design play a significant role in this production. The set appears to be a combination of the interior of a computer and Stone Henge. Seven large panels stand at the back of the stage. On them are designs that look like computer circuit boards upon which are projected constantly changing videos, most of which relate, literally or abstractly, to the scenes being acted out. In front of these panels are modular boxes that are constantly rearranged by the cast to serve as chairs, beds and other props — even as a piano.
The scenes consist of discussions related to the information age, to the nature of love, to terrorism, to, in effect, almost everything that is a part of the age we live in. The relationships between the videos and what is happening on stage is sometimes serendipitous and sometimes contradictory.
For instance, in a scene about terrorism, there is a video of war on the center panel while playing simultaneously on the other panels are videos of sports (simulated war), including a Seahawks game.
Most reviews of the production see it as a meditation on the successes and failures of human communication, but Lamb feels this misses Churchill’s larger point.
Says Lamb, “The question I am asking is: Where is the intersection between data and emotion? At what point do chemical reactions become human experiences, and in that chain reaction, where do we become human?”
“Love and Information” is smart and funny but impossible to understand if approached with the expectation of a traditional story arc. Some people will not get it and will be disappointed, but those who enjoy artistic experimentation should love it.
It is a short play at 80 minutes with no intermission.
Reach Alec Clayton at email@example.com or check out his blog at alecclayton.blogspot.com for reviews of other area theatrical productions.
‘LOVE AND INFORMATION’
When: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through March 23
Where: State Theatre, 202 4th Ave. E., Olympia
Tickets: $12 to $15
Information: https://harlequinproductions.org/, 360-786-0151