- Love and Information
- Written by: Caryl Churchill
- Directed by: Tanja Jacobs and Alistair Newton
- Starring: Jason Cadieux, Sarah Deller, Peter Fernandes, Maggie Huculak, Sheila Ingabire-Isaro, David Jansen, Reid Millar and Ngozi Paul
- Location: At Berkeley Street Theatre in Toronto
“My head’s too full of stuff,” an insomniac says early on in Caryl Churchill’s Love and Information.
You may feel the same by the end of this curious 2012 play, or sequence of tiny, little plays by Britain’s most inventive playwright, now getting its Toronto premiere courtesy of Canadian Stage.
In this production, eight actors cycle through more than 100 characters who populate 49 separate, unconnected scenes – and it’s up to your brain to make connections between all that “stuff.”
Many scenes seem to be about that struggle to take what’s inside our heads and make another person understand it. In one, a prison inmate who listened to a voice from God tries to explain what that means to his skeptical mother; in another, a schizophrenic calmly tells her therapist how she knows that she is evil.
A fable about a child who doesn’t feel fear is read aloud at a patient’s bedside – and, later, a child who doesn’t feel pain attempts to describe his condition to friends while they all sit on his bed.
Another scene shows how we all process information differently as three co-workers discuss an earthquake that killed millions: One is overwhelmed by the horror, another can’t take any of it in and the third can only talk about an “awesome” internet video of a gigantic wave.
First premiered at London’s Royal Court Theatre in 2012, Love and Information has been interpreted as a reflection of how the online world is affecting (or infecting) our offline one – with The New York Times calling it a play that “ingeniously and exhaustively mirrors our age of the splintered attention span.”
Indeed, Churchill – the veteran experimentalist best known for Top Girls and Cloud 9 whose works never take the same form twice – has written the play as a kind of hypertext.
Within each of its seven sections, the sequence of the scenes can be shuffled – and there are extra tweet-length scenes at the end that can be clicked on whenever directors want, or skipped altogether. There’s no context given for any of the dialogue in Churchill’s script: no character names, genders or ages.
Canadian Stage has hired two directors to process this Love and Information – Tanja Jacobs and Alistair Newton, the most recent pair to pass through Canadian Stage and York University’s MFA in stage direction. It would be a mug’s game to try and guess which scenes were directed by which director – but there do seem to be two distinct approaches at play. Many scenes are directed in a realistic, actor-centred way, while others become performances within the performance – as a ventriloquist act, a reality-TV show shoot, or a talk-show interview.
Occasionally, we get two different takes on the same slice of dramatic information – for instance, in a scene called “mnemonist” about an individual with an incredible memory.
In the first, this man’s ability to recall the colour of a cup he drank tea out of 30 years earlier is a trick that inspires laughter and applause in a variety show; in the second, the man is actually answering a doctor’s questions at a medical facility.
Memory can be a talent, or memory can be a burden. Likewise, forgetting is shown as tragedy in one scene in which a man with dementia can no longer recognize his wife, but, later, in a vintage Churchillian scene, a man (Peter Fernandes) wakes up at night in unexplained terror and is calmed by his partner. “Once it’s in there…,” says the man. “Once you know that stuff.…”
What if we’re moving toward an age where we rely on Google for most information – and end up remembering only that which we don’t want to remember?
Perhaps stage actors will soon be revered anew as artisans keeping the archaic art of memorization alive – while the rest of us outsource our memories to Google. The eight here are solid, playing a dozen parts each, and occasionally breaking out into a group dance set to the Hall & Oates song Kiss on My List, prancing around the versatile but ugly set designed by Eo Sharp.
But only Maggie Huculak stands out – going way below the surface of scenes which are, inevitably, superficial. She shakes with fury as a mother talking to her imprisoned son, or sadness as a wife forgotten; and gives the most moving performance of the evening in a scene that is all movement, playing an elderly woman with a walker who briefly remembers how to dance.
Huculak gives a memorable performance in a scroll of a play that seems to be, by design, intended to be not – and instead, leaves you with that uneasy, queasy feeling that you get after spending a similar amount of time on Facebook or Twitter.
Love and Information continues to April 29 (canadianstage.com).