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Love and Information: how to express the impossibility of communication - Drew Rowsome - MyGayToronto

Love and Information: how to express the impossibility of communication
14 April 2018

by Drew Rowsome - Photos by Dahlia Katz

Playwright Caryl Churchill is very clever. In Love and Information she takes a kaleidoscope of ideas and fragments, turning them into interlocking and contrasting or totally unrelated sketches, that meld to become a profound statement on the human condition. Or, cleverly, she took all her leftover ideas or random musings that weren't strong enough to become a complete play, and tossed them all together to somehow create a profound statement on the human condition.

Love and Information zips along with none of the scenes lasting more than a few minutes, and many lasting considerably less. Some have punchlines, some are satirical, some are rueful, at least one is heartbreaking. Some comment on what went before, some flow from what came before, some just puzzle or appear from the ether. But in all - explicitly in two linked segments performed in semaphore and morse code - there is a sense of struggling to communicate, to impart information. Or maybe to express emotion.

It all begins with the cast pacing the stage, half of them demanding to be told a secret, the other half refusing to tell. Many secrets are revealed throughout the evening, just as many are evaded. Much of the communication trouble comes through technology (there are jabs at the addictiveness of phones, iPads and Facebook). We are the most connected population in history yet we cannot get through to each other. Ingeniously the set reflects the disconnect, it is dominated by a large black cube that revolves and is studded with doors and trapdoors and a convenient murphy bed. The cube remains resolutely luddite. It is on wheels but must be turned with force, by hand - sometimes with effort, sometimes with ease - and the other necessary scenery is carried on and off in a choreographed but obvious fashion.

We see the cast take their places for the next scene because the spotlights are ragged on the edges. We see the cast change into their next costume. It all flows seamlessly but not by theatrical magic, by the effort of the humans who are creating the magic. A trio watch a video of a wedding on a phone while unnoticed a fourth slumps forward apparently dead: the real is too real, Love and Information revels in the artifice while warning against it. With all the technology at our disposal, at Canadian Stage's disposal, it is the elemental lumber and skill that communicate.

The cast has to take on many roles - ostensibly there are 57 different scenes, I didn't count - and create at least an archetypal thumbnail in mere seconds. They are all very good at adding depth to a very shallow stylized form of characterization. Maggie Huculak (Cake and Dirt) appears to physically transform before and during each entrance. She also has the most charming sketch, a pas de deux with a walker. David Jansen is authoritative or blustering as needed. Jason Cadieux (King Lear), who ably essayed multiple roles in The Wedding Party but for explicitly comic effect, arches an eyebrow or flexes a tattoo to become a louche lothario, the definition of male obliviousness, or, in my favourite moment, an uncomprehending linguistic fascist.

Ngozi Paul is casual sexual confidence or utter despair, while Sarah Deller excels at equally casual domination. Or ineptitude. The most extreme transformations are by Sheila Ingabire-Isaro who changes ages and attitudes as deftly as she slides in and out of costumes. Reid Millar is innocence, a piano player, smouldering and the one who questions the existence of God. Bundle of energy Peter Fernandes (OneginKing Lear) spins through a ventriloquism act and the suffering "The Boy Who Didn't Know Pain." They all traverse a balancing act of vaudevillian presentation and quick changes with a throughline of grounded solidity.

Where Churchill's script leaves off and directors Tanja Jacobs and Alistair Newton (King LearOf a Monstrous Child: A Gaga Musical) take over is impossible to pinpoint. There is much choreographed movement and many physical flourishes that add reason and/or confusion to the text. And between what could be construed as acts, the cast breaks free of the confines of the chess board set design to dance in regimented choreography to illustrate their freedom from restraint. It is a strain, even with such gifted guides, to try to find the connections, hear what Churchill is trying to say. But that is what she appears to be saying: communication is difficult, information is hard to exchange, love is a glorious bitch. 

This Love and Information ends with the insistent beat of Patti Smith's timeless "Because the Night." A sketch of a song compared to Smith's denser more poetic work, but one that somehow slices right to the heart. By talking simply of small things, infusing passion and the need to reach out, adding a physical beat, what seems a minor statement becomes a powerful expression of something ephemeral and transcendent. It is a perfect metaphor for Love and Information: we may not be able to explain it, but we understand. We experience. And we feel.

The scenes have come thick and fast. Consciously mimicking the swipe and scroll experience of social media sites, where there is glut of information but a complete lack of connection. Other than the connections one imposes on the chaos or senses internally. Love and Information may despair of modern communication but this production - by enforcing low-tech, human sweat, and the effervescent joy of simple complex pop music - holds out hope.

Love and Information continues until Sun, April 29 at the Berkeley Street Theatre, 26 Berkeley St. canadianstage.com

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