American Conservatory Theater

The ‘Love and Information’ overload

Caryl Churchill's elliptical play opens San Francisco's new Strand Theater.

Please please tell me


Please because I’ll never

Two friends stand together, maybe at a bus stop. One tells the other that she has a secret that she can’t reveal to anyone. The second woman cajoles and inveigles and finally the first whispers into her ear. Her eyes grow wide at the revelation. But what does she do now?

Unlike the characters in this opening scene of Love and Information, the audience never learns the secret. But the scene sets the stage for the rest of British playwright Caryl Churchill’s 2012 play: with so much information available, do we really need to know as much as we think we do?

L–R: Joel Bernard, Dominique Salerno, and Christina Liang in ACT's production of Caryl Churchill's Love and Information. Photo: Kevin Berne.

L–R: Joel Bernard, Dominique Salerno, and Christina Liang in ACT’s production of Caryl Churchill’s Love and Information. Photo: Kevin Berne.

The 90-minute, no-intermission show, running through August 9 at San Francisco’s revived Strand Theater, comprises 57 mostly unrelated vignettes—some as brief as a few sentences—divided into seven sections and performed by a dozen very busy actors. (The Strand’s revival by one of San Francisco’s most important theater companies, American Contemporary Theater, is also newsworthy for West Coast theater—see below.) Ranging from five seconds to five minutes short, some scenes are funny (teenage girls giddily crushing on a teen idol), some poignant (a woman gets a terrifying diagnosis from a physician; a son learns that the woman he thought was his older sister is actually his mother), some trivial (a couple bicker about whether to go over to another couple’s house). One scene, in its entirety: [Someone sneezes.]

It’s the theatrical equivalent of a novel written in tweets, or a TV episode compiled from constant channel surfing, an album made of 30-second song previews … take your pick from any of today’s rapid-fire media phenomena. It’s a thrill ride—until it isn’t.

We’ve all been bombarded by the news that we’re all being bombarded by information these days, so much that we’re risking info overload about info overload. Do we really need to be shown it onstage? Does a theatrical presentation of TMI + ADD = WTF? How many short sketches do we need to experience to really get the point that our info-ADDled society is destroying our attention spans, our ability to form or sustain relationships, even our ability to focus on… uh, what was I saying again?