My friend and I watched the Sacramento premiere of Love and Information by Caryl Churchill tonight, at the Capital Stage Theatre. With only four rows in a semi circle around a small stage, the theatre contributes to the intimate feel of the play, with the actors coming in and out of the doors and from back stage.
The set design was simple: a series of panels and boxes set at varying distances from the back; when the theatre lights were up, the panels showed large, square brick-like tiles in shades of blue. When the lights went down, the panels radiated with large electrical conducting lines in glow-in-the-dark paint: they were now broken panels of a motherboard. As the play progressed, the actors would move boxes around, set up little areas of activity, and then just as easily, move them away. It was choreographed beautifully, like a dance.
The play opened with two actors dressed like teens, pouring over a pulp magazine, trying to outdo each other on the facts they know about a favorite actor. Their desperate desire to be the one who knew more poured out of them, the frustration, the final acknowledgement that they would have to go back to the magazine for more and more trivia raised laughter from the audience, but was ultimately sad. Vignette upon vignette followed, and I quickly realized that this was the play: slice of life scenes of actors, either in pairs or groups, or on their own, walked on and off the stage, showing the various ways that people try to communicate with each other, try to find commonalities. There were so many of these: misplaced memories, an alzheimer’s patient with no memory of his wife who was trying desperately to remind him of the special love they had had for each other, people with mental disorders trying to share their deepest thoughts with people who couldn’t quite understand, old lovers reminiscing about their long past romance, neither of them remembering anything about what the other said.
At various times, a silent, still man would show up on the left of the stage with his back to the audience, with people coming up behind him, trying to reach him, with no avail. A similar scene played out on the right side of the stage, this time with a silent, still woman, her misery and depression showing in her stance, arms hugging herself, protecting herself from everyone and the world. There was a scene in a gym, with two men working out, one man trying to convince the other that his fascination with his virtual girlfriend was normal and completely acceptable. The other man’s face and voice showed his escalating frustration beautifully. Another scene with a woman crying over a news bit on her computer feed about babies dying, drowning, failed to incite any reaction in her husband who, after trying to take in what she was telling him, turned back to his smartphone, unfeeling.
What stood out was the fast pace with which the play moved: at one point, I looked at my watch and we were already an hour in. The relentless nature in which the vignettes poured onto the stage made me think of my newsfeed on my computer or smartphone. There was always something else to look at, something else to either be disgusted at, people to be bored with or fascinated by, no real satisfaction or a resolution, because then we were off to the next scene. And isn’t that just how we feel now? Our news and social connections are lightening fast, quick and brief, requiring only a limited attention span, and in the end, we feel unsatisfied, disjointed, disconnected when we are virtually connected to everything, but in reality, nothing.
At the very end, there is a man rattling off trivia questions to his girlfriend, and she’s responding with what I assume are the right answers in a machine-gun manner, frenzied and excited. He interrupts the flow of questions with one of his own: “Do you love me?” and she snaps at him, “Don’t do that!” After a slight pause, he continues with the trivia questions, and she continues to give the answers, but then she turns to face him, and I say under my breath, just as she does, “I do.”
And that was it. It was done. A connection was made, and it was enough.
I didn’t like the play. But as I walked away from the theatre, and as I drove home, explaining it to my boyfriend on the phone, the words tumbling out of me, the meanings of each vignette sinking in, layers upon layers, I realized that it made an impact.
It connected with me.
Capital Stage Theatre
2215 J Street
Sacramento, CA 95816