Friday, February 21, 2014

Love and Information: A Barrage of Communication

"Is it better to know things or not know things?"

Caryl Churchill's 100 characters, in a series of vignettes, attempt to show that intense, human drama can be had with as little as two people, one line, and a stage. The series of scenes ricochet through the audience's mind as Churchill and director James Macdonald offer up questions of secrets, knowledge, memories, language, meaning, and the unspoken, all culminating in a barrage of human experience. 

Because of the brevity of the scenes the connective tissue of the play are the themes.  Characters come and go, sometimes without a word.  But the sustaining notes are the ideas that secrets can divide people or bring them together. That try as we might communication can be nearly impossible or the greatest form of connection. 

The large cast must in a blink of an eye create a character and set a scene. Surprisingly this works over and over again. A costume or small piece of set dressing plus Churchill's minimal dialogue manages to give enough for us to get our footing in short order. Thematically the arcs are a little harder to keep up with. The play is divided into seven sections with many scenes in each section. I tried to keep track of patterns but just as I found a connection between two, a third would stymie me.  The flood of information was overwhelming.  But this seems largely the point.  So much is being communicated in this play and like life, it's not always easy to see the patterns. 

Scenes range from fangirls melting down over not knowing the favorite smell of their object of affection to a family sitting down to watch a wedding video and remembering moments not on the tape. Old lovers are reunited but they remember totally different aspects of their days together. A man who can feel no pain wants to understand what pain "is".  A couple of Elvis impersonators talk about Israel. With each scene we get glimpses into how information is communicated, how we struggle with what we know, what we don't know, what we long to know and how information changes us and our relationships.

As riveting as moments were, I also found myself exhausted about 90 minutes into this two hour intermission-less show.  It's not that the drama was not compelling. It was.  And the fact that each scene was communicated so efficiently and directly with minimal tools made the feat even more impressive.  And the scenarios did not feel repetitive.  But I think my brain stopped processing.  The structure and frequency of new scenes and new information creates a constant level of heightened stimulation.  At some point the rush I was getting from the moments of jolting drama started to lose its effectiveness.  All my circuits were overwhelmed--and I had not even realized it was happening.

So I let the information wash over me--the encounters,  the quick changes, and the torrent of intense moments.  The cast, writing, scenic work, and direction build so much out of what in other hands might seem like the bare bones of a skeleton.  But there's a sly density in the minimalism. Much like a piece of durational theater, the payoff in Love and Information is not just in the individually sculpted moments, but also the sensation and experience created by the play as a whole. 

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