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WHEN THEATER MET THEATER

 

picture - Love ChildTheater Review

by George Deming

published October 31, 2008

 

Love Child

now playing Off Broadway at 59E59 Theater A

through November 19

 

It is with a great deal of sadness that I must recommend that you skip seeing Love Child at all costs.  It is not that actors/playwrights Daniel Jenkins and Robert Stanton are untalented, but rather that they are not talented enough.  Not enough to play 20-ish characters seamlessly.  Not enough to demand the audience’s attention for an uninterrupted hour and twenty minutes.  Not enough to be playing at 59E59’s Theater A.  Or, to give them the benefit of the doubt, maybe they are just under-rehearsed.  It was quite a surprise to find out afterwards how extensive their acting credits are.  Definitely they could have used sharper direction than they were provided by Carl Forsman.  But would that have saved it?  The deeper problem is that they have bitten off more than they can chew, and have tried to pull off an overly complex undertaking that would have benefited from a large dose of simplicity.

 

The story is about an evening in the theater.  Jenkins and Stanton play all the parts: the audience, the actors on the stage, the people backstage, and then some.  It was very difficult to grasp what the play within the play was all about.  Because there was so much of the Actor characters talking about and to the Audience characters, I thought that maybe it was supposed to be some kind of weird onstage reality show; only when I read the script afterwards did I recall that it was indeed mentioned that it was an updated version of Euripides’s Ion.  (My companion was equally lost as to what the play within the play was supposed to be about.)

 

It was hard to tell if the script was incomprehensible on its own or if it was made so by the confusion of keeping track of all the characters as performed by only two people.  Once I read the script, I realized that the writing was equal parts hopeless to the stage shenanigans.  It is certainly exhausting to watch.  In that it takes place in a theater, one actor might run up the stairs to deliver a line as Character 1, then run back down to the stage to respond as Character 2, and then run back up again.  Most often, though, they spin to indicate that they are changing into a different person.  Occasionally one character will be indistinguishable from another, so the spinning is definitely a big help in that sense.  But there are just too many characters with too-quick conversations to follow it.  We are also expected to keep track of flashbacks, visual puns, and other things that would work much better (or work, period) on film.  But however successful or unsuccessful the writing and the transitions, one longs for them to really embody a character instead of just putting on a funny voice.  (If you want to see this successfully pulled off, check out Kahlil Ashanti's Basic Training.)

 

Playing in repertory with A Body Of Water, the set designer of that show, Neil Patel, has very generously lent his name as the set designer of Love Child.  What Patel has done, essentially, is cover up the set of A Body of Water as much as possible with long sheets of, perhaps, canvas.  Now they can say that Patel designed the set for their show.  Kind of stretching it, to say the least – especially since so much of the Water set remains exposed.  And did Patel choose the line of non-matching chairs they use that are not featured in Water?

 

The lighting design by Jeff Croiter and Grant Yeager is the most successful artistic achievement of the evening, but again one wonders if Croiter, the sole lighting designer on A Body of Water, simply had his existing scheme used differently by Yeager for this show.  Anyway, it’s effective, so no matter.  (Lastly sharing credit on both shows is costume designer Candice Donnelly, who must have chosen their nondescript clothing.)

 

What the performances have most going for them are the self-produced sound effects – cars rumbling, latches clacking, doors creaking – that come out of their mouths.  At one point, there is a long, continuous high-pitched whistle during an exchange, so that when one actor has a line of dialogue, the other must create the whistle, then switch off so that the second actor can deliver his line while the first takes over the continuous-whistling duties.  It’s almost flawless, and such moments are when you realize that you really are in the theater after all.  They also get a lot of mileage out of an imaginary slippery spot on the stage.  Most of the rest, unfortunately, is not so much theater as a big chaotic mess.

 

georgedeming @ stageandcinema.com

 

 
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