Stages

Review: Love and Information at Trap Door Mines Our Anxieties About Human Connections

Trap Door Theatre’s production of Love and Information, Caryl Churchill’s 2012 play, is more performance art than theater.  But Kim McKean’s direction makes this production sizzle with energy. The nine versatile actors who perform do justice to Churchill’s homage to love, knowledge, angst, and communications failures. And yes, technology.

Love and Information isn’t a linear story but it’s a fine example of Churchill’s interest in modifying theatrical form. Just let the words and images flow during the show and memorable bits and pieces will haunt you later.

The ensemble. Photo by Chris Popio.

Churchill gives the creative team plenty of leeway in the structure and nature of her script. There are about 100 roles, none of them named and most not gender-identified. The 57 scenes are organized in seven sections with 20 “random” scenes at the end, marked “optional.” The seven sections are to be played in order but the scenes within can be organized in any way. Some of the scenes are a minute or less; some of them several minutes. The production runs about 80 minutes.

Trap Door’s tiny theater, at the end of a gangway on Cortland Street in Bucktown, is a rectangular space with the raised stage tucked in the corner and seating on two sides.  Trap Door’s style is to have performers in costume and makeup on stage when the house opens. They may sit, dance, jump and jiggle as they move on and off the stage before the performance begins. Two video screens project abstractions but later project relevant scenes and live videos by Jake Flum, perched in a loft above the stage. Flum also sometimes climbs down on stage to tap dance in sparkly shoes or perform in a scene.

The other eight actors, many of them Trap Door regulars, are Whitney Dottery, Brian Huther, Emily Lotspeich, Michael Mejia, Emily Nichelson, Keith Surney, Lilly Tukur and Carl Wisniewski.

In one scene titled “Fan,” two young people debate the intensity of their love for a certain celebrity musician. In “Lab,” a scientist explains research on fluffy yellow chicks, to the horror of a companion. In “Mother,” a sister tells her sister that her mother isn’t her mother; her sister is her mother. In a long scene titled “Memory House,” a person advises another how to improve memory.  “Wife” is a scene where a woman tries to convince a man that she’s his wife (“see, even that little birthmark behind my ear”) but he insists she’s gone, all gone, “everyone who loved me is gone.” But in “Virtual,” one man insists his girlfriend loves and understands him even though she doesn’t exactly exist.

Nichelson and Wisniewski. Photo by Chris Popio.

And in the final scene, “Facts,” this is a sample of dialogue.

Where would you see a huish?
In a gnu’s fur.

How many diamonds were mined in 1957?
Sixty thousand four hundred and twenty-eight.

Name two traditional ingredients of poulash.
Duck and fennel.

In 1647 what day was the battle of Stoneham?
June the third. Tuesday.

Scenic design is by Nicholas Schwartz with lighting by Richard Norwood and sound design by Sam Clapp and Jake Sorgen. Incidental music is by Matt Test. Costumes are designed by Rachel Sypniewski with makeup by Zsófia Otvos.

Remy Bumppo Theatre staged Love and Information in 2015 and will stage Top Girls, another Churchill play, this season. In my 2015 review, I wrote, “Love and Information expresses our ADHD culture and our paranoia about security and privacy while illuminating our need for those human connections.” I’ll stand by that statement.

Churchill’s long and distinguished career should have gained her a reputation as one of our finest playwrights decades ago, but theatrical misogyny may have kept her from being considered part of her peer group that includes Stoppard and Pinter, says David Benedict in The Stage. He says of her fascination with language and form, “What really makes her radical is her constant reinvention of form, the shape, the style, the rhythm, the scope, the scale of playwriting. And not only has she changed the way plays are watched and perceived, she has even changed the way plays are physically written.”

Love and Information continues through October 19 at Trap Door Theatre, 1655 W. Cortland St. Tickets for performances Thursday-Saturday are $20-$25 (two for one tickets on Thursdays).

 

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