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Love and information (2014)

LOVE AND INFORMATION Phillip James Brannon and Jennifer Ikeda
Image credit: Joan Marcus
LOVE AND INFORMATION Phillip James Brannon and Jennifer Ikeda
EW's GRADE
B

Details Opening Date: Feb 19, 2014; Lead Performances: Phillip James Brannon, Noah Galvin, Jennifer Ikeda, James Waterston and Karen Kandel...; Writer: Caryl Churchill; Director: James MacDonald; Genre: Drama

Love and Information, the latest boundary-pushing provocation by British playwright Caryl Churchill, unfolds in a series of short scenes, each lasting a minute or two and each featuring a new set of characters. As a kind of meta-joke to Heinz's famed 57 varieties, there are in fact 57 of these short standalone vignettes. Some are quite funny: Two Elvis impersonators discuss the Middle East, a man manically sings the praises of the color red to his boyfriend, two teenage girls obsessing over their celebrity crush. Others are thought-provoking: A girl reveals to a boy that she's his mother and not his sister, a man on a stationary bike reveals that he's in love with his computer (in fairness to Churchill, the show was first performed in London in 2012, long before Spike Jonze's Her.) And some are actually poignant: A doctor tells her patient that she has 10 percent chance of living after two years, a man on a swing set insists that he doesn't remember if the woman beside him is his wife.

The talented cast of 15 changes costumes and tone as needed, though the scenes that call for overlapping dialogue are choppier and play less sharply than they should. The New York Theatre Workshop's production, running through March 23 at Off Broadway's Minetta Lane Theatre, is a technical marvel. Miriam Buether's set is a cube-like space lined with what looks like graph paper on the walls, floor, and ceiling — and there's a blackout between each scene that allows for a complete change of props and scenery. The blackouts also feature an over-loud sonic interlude and a string of glaring LED lights around the stage contribute to the unfortunate relentlessness of the production.

By the end, some recurring themes emerge from the scattershot scenes: the burden of secrets, the challenge of forging connections in the modern age, and the fragility of memory (says one character watching a wedding video: ''if it wasn't for the video I wouldn't remember anything''). But while there is much to admire in Churchill's play, it's a hard show to actually embrace. The overall effect is more exhausting than exhilarating, like two hours of channel surfing. Or watching a series of YouTube clips on a dial-up Internet connection. In the end, theater may not be the ideal medium for Love and Information. B

(Tickets: Ticketmaster.com)
Originally posted Feb 19, 2014