A play bluntly and obviously titled “Love and Information” begs equally succinct descriptions. Poetic and elusive fits. Clever and exhausting fits also. Profound and banal would be another. The taut new Capital Stage production of influential British playwright Caryl Churchill’s 2012 play works in all these ways but finally leaves something to be desired.
Churchill is one of the major contemporary living playwrights with an extraordinary body of work, which includes the seminal pieces “Cloud Nine” (1979) a cross-gender sexual-political farce, “Top Girls” (1982) a time-traveling meditation on the effects of feminism, and more recently “A Number” (2002), which takes on human cloning. There has often been a topicality to Churchill’s writing though she’s a chameleon of styles, veering from comic surrealism to arch formality.
“Love and Information” flows in short scenes, more than 50, many shorter than the blackouts bookending them. There are seven sections to the play, but the scenes within the sections can played in any order the play makers decide, plus there are also random scenes that can be placed anywhere. The characters are different in every scene except for one that recurs. A narrative through-line is not the point here; the overall experience is.
There’s diversity in the cast, but it looks more homogeneous than one would hope for in a play specifically reflecting a sense of the modern world. The scenes stand alone, and the strong 11-person ensemble makes the moments specific under Benjamin T. Ismail’s sharp direction. They just don’t necessarily all engage or challenge the audience.
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Some scenes are simply soporific. The opening is a tease straight out of a creative-writing workbook, with one character begging another to tell her something he doesn’t want to tell. After she gives up, he relents and whispers the information in her ear so the audience can’t hear the “revelation.” In another a woman openly wonders if she should tell her friend about the affair the friend’s husband is having and the friend finally saying she’s known for years. The strongest scenes conjure the fragility of memory: Matt K. Miller and Eric Balwin as former lovers trying to remember their shared past; Gail Dartez watching her wedding video with her family.
The excellent production elements include Brian Watson’s minimalist scene design, Steve Decker’s visceral lighting and projections, Rachel Malin’s evocative costumes and Ed Lee’s enveloping sound.
There’s so much to process as we try connect ideas from scene to scene but ultimately cannot. This seems to be Churchill’s point. In the age of short attention spans, when we whip out our phones at all times to check updates, status, Instagram, Twitter, texts or emails, we still crave human connection. The mystery and challenge is how to achieve it.
Love and Information
What: Capital Stage presents “Love and Information” by Caryl Churchill. Directed by Benjamin T. Ismail
Where: Capital Stage, 2215 J St., Sacramento
When: Continuing at 7 p.m. Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays - Saturdays, 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Feb. 28
Information: 916-995-5464; capstage.org