You may forget but
Let me tell you
this: someone in
some future time
will think of us
Theatre Vertigo, in its little Shoebox Theatre space, is performing Caryl Churchill’s Love and Information, a play with no stage directions, a dozen actors, 100 parts, and 57 scenes in 90 minutes.
At this second more than 1,900,000 Google searches have been performed today. In 2009, the New York Times reported: “The report suggests the average American consumes 34 gigabytes of content and 100,000 words of information in a single day. (Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” is only 460,000 words long.) This doesn’t mean we read 100,000 words a day — it means that 100,000 words cross our eyes and ears in a single 24-hour period. That information comes through various channels, including the television, radio, the Web, text messages and video games.”
We swim in a sea of fragments of information, sometimes fully afloat, heading to beautiful unimagined shores; at other times forever aching to go back a second before in the wake of violent histories unfolding. This delicate dance would be almost impossible to explain to a person living one hundred years ago. Our need to know, our fear that we have no connections, the intense and elaborate technologies against the reality of our bodies, has created a dramatic debate.
In the early 1960s Churchill was a mother who sequestered herself for a few hours at night and on the weekends to write plays. They began on BBC radio, often using extensive production techniques to express her leftist vision in an experimental frame. In the decades to follow, she became the regent of cutting-edge British theater, writing caricatures of hyper-colored everyday modern people and the way their psychologies mediate conflict. One of her influences, Samuel Beckett, was transmitting avant-garde productions at the same time, on the same station. Over her awarded, productive and empowering career, Churchill has made a craft of her own craft: devising her introspective looks into humanity as a personal Occam’s razor.
We should look back to our dear friend Sappho, to the endless hours that artists and bodegas have emptied into the most minute of designs; to the formalized attention humans pride on detail not only in what they create, but also in the tools they create with; and the way they see, between the points, an elegance of the parts. In these tiny symbols is a repercussion, an echo chamber of loss, warmth, death, sex, food, acceptance, denial, secrecy, and the mystery of life.
Theatre Vertigo’s troupe takes on Churchill’s play full-force, not emphasizing, as other productions often do, technology as a beast of burden (which is a disservice to the material in a simplistic interpretation), but instead a running high-jump ballet across the stage in a kinetic Olympics that unfolds Churchill’s dialogue. It is a marriage of Beckett’s alienation as lifestyle with Foucault’s understanding of power as the unspoken dynamic woven together in a gestalt waltz. In the play’s first 20 minutes we have seen all the actors, but they trade off their vignettes in full realization of what makes the moment, the words, the play our focus. Churchill’s writing is a tender, humane, nurturing, but critical embrace that, as with Beckett and Foucault, makes plain the obvious – the uncomfortable, real way that humans behave, despite enculturation or society’s etiquette.
The actors – Holly Wigmore, Stephanie Cordell, Andrea White, Tom Mounsey, Nathan Crosby, several others – and director Michelle Seaton have got spot-on to the root of the matter, and of Churchill. While we are experiencing a live performance of our multiply informed lives, the scenes become meta meta meta. We drink in the lovers reminiscing about an affair that has died, the awkward date that reverberates to a captive audience, a man breaking down and crying in the middle of a busy cityscape, the soul-crushing exploitation of authority without benevolence. As an audience, it is easy for us to work with the play. We want to fill in the blanks of the future narrative that rounds out the splinters of importance that Churchill can tell in just seconds. We start to want more, want to jump to the next portrait, to the next little adrenaline rush. There is a familiarity in the energy behind the actors, and Vertigo’s play demands that we participate with both our minds and our emotions.
The sweat dripping from the actors as they bow at the end is emotive and rewarding. This is a “wow” moment, and as we start to filter in that we’ve seen a play, a physical act and art form almost as old as language itself, in an intimate space, it dawns that we’ve just had a multiple-party tennis match between us, the past, and today; and we’ve come away with an appreciation for us, despite the cynics’ bets.
Theatre Vertigo’s Love and Information continues through May 7 at the Shoebox. Ticket and schedule information here.