nytheatre.com review by Matt Roberson
April 9, 2011
In one of the stranger moments of a totally strange but exciting play, husband Harry mimes the act of injecting his exhausted wife with a drug. We’re never told what he gives her, but in the world of this play, it’s the drug of love that has the most powerful effect. As its title hints, Love Song is about our need for those special intimate connections, whether we know we need them or not.
Beane is a loner. He’s always been that way, and at the start of the play, there are no signs his state of isolation will ever change. Beane’s need to expand isn’t helped by his only human connections, hyper-agitated sister Joan and her husband Harry. As the story opens, unhappiness and dark clouds rule. When, however, Beane’s emptiness is invaded by a beautiful, and potentially dangerous, stranger, this already upside-down world flips once more.
As writer and director, John Kolvenbach has put himself behind a production that succeeds in so many ways that I can’t imagine who won’t have a good time with this play. The writing is wonderful to hear, at times inspired by the back-and-forth of classic comedy, and at others, heart-breaking and poetic. I’ve seen few writers who can offer the beauty and humor in a line like the one in which Beane praises water:
It’s see-through Joy. It’s two “h’s” and an “o,” a molecular ménage à trois, I taste love and sex in every sip.
This rare language is great even on paper, but in the hands of this cast, it soars. Better ensemble work will rarely be seen. They’re comfortable with the words, and never once wink at the heightened reality of the play’s world. Laura Latreille (Joan) never takes the easy road in playing the tightly wound Upper East Sider, instead giving her character an emotional life that changes with each scene. As her increasingly distant husband Harry, Ian Barford is hilarious. Molly is a challenging role, but Zoë Winters handles her well, never allowing Molly’s sharp emotional edge to dull. As Beane, Andrew Pastides is great fun to watch, engaging the audience with a performance that is both exciting and, in one wordless scene, deeply saddening. As fun as this play appears to be, the emotional shifts and heightened language offer up real challenges, each of which is deftly handled by Kolvenbach’s actors.
For all the skill he shows in getting his actors in touch with their characters’ true selves, Kolvenbach could push the envelope further in his staging. For the most part, when contrasted with the theatricality of the writing and performances, the movement on stage seems ordinary. Even more distracting are the many set changes. While they do showcase a thoughtful, original design by Ji-Youn Chang, the constant starts and stops also threaten to derail the tone and pace of the work. It doesn’t ruin the play, but with a less capable cast, it might.
Most plays are lucky to do one thing well. Love Song at 59E59 does many. And this cast is perfect. As a reviewer, this is easy to say, but hard to mean. With Love Song, I mean it. They really are that good.