Arts & Culture

An experimental play with 50 scenes opens Thursday

With neither defined characters nor a fixed script, the 2012 play by widely acclaimed British playwright Caryl Churchill is made up of 50-plus scenes, some optional, that directors can rearrange and reassemble within guidelines Churchill has set down.
With neither defined characters nor a fixed script, the 2012 play by widely acclaimed British playwright Caryl Churchill is made up of 50-plus scenes, some optional, that directors can rearrange and reassemble within guidelines Churchill has set down. Courtesy

“Love and Information,” in its opening weekend at Harlequin Productions’ State Theater, is a most unusual piece of theater.

With neither defined characters nor a fixed script, the 2012 play by widely acclaimed British playwright Caryl Churchill is made up of 50-plus scenes, some optional, that directors can rearrange and reassemble within guidelines Churchill has set down.

“It’s like nothing I’ve ever worked on before in the theater,” director Aaron Lamb told the Olympian. “A lot of my process was just figuring out how we were going to accomplish this.

“I will compare it to a collage,” he added. “Rather than a single painting or a series of paintings, we’ve got a whole bunch of different images put together to make another image.”

While many directors — including James Macdonald, who helmed the 2014 Off-Broadway production — have seen the play chiefly as a commentary on human communication in the digital age, Lamb has a broader vision.

“I think there’s a question in there about the difference between information and emotion,” said Lamb, Harlequin’s acting artistic director. “Where do we shift from DNA and chemical reactions in the brain to emotion? What makes us different than a machine?”

He’s highlighting that theme through the rearrangement of scenes, especially toward the end of the play, which drops in on scene after fragmentary scene, never revisiting the same characters.

It’s a play in constant motion, clocking in at around 80 minutes in the Harlequin production, designed to flow smoothly from scene to scene.

In a review of the Off-Broadway production, New York Times critic Ben Brantley described it as “exhilarating and exhausting.”

“These parts compel us to think about the paradoxical variety and similarity in the ways we try to make sense of our universe and our place in it,” he wrote. “And every little snippet of a play here leaves us wondering about what happened before and what happens after what we’ve seen.”

Lamb’s advice? Don’t even try to make sense of it.

“People have a tendency to try to figure out what’s going on,” he said. “This play pushes back against that. It’s better to sit back, take everything in and then see what you think about it.”

Ironically, he had a lot to figure out as he began preparing, beginning with casting a show with no characters and a flexible cast size.

He cast seven actors — including Harlequin regular Alyssa Kay Matthews (“The 39 Steps” and “Three Days of Rain,” among others) and her husband, Fox Rain Matthews (“Three Days of Rain”) — aiming at a wide range of ages and types.

Determining who’d be in which scene was a logistical puzzle. He didn’t want actors doing two scenes back to back within one of the play’s seven sections, and he didn’t want them always playing opposite the same partner.

“A spreadsheet helped,” he said. “I did a lot of prep work for this one.”

‘Love and Information’

What: Harlequin Productions presents Caryl Churchill’s experimental play, a kaleidoscope of 50 scenes and more than 100 characters.

When: 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday, Saturday; Wednesday-March 9, plus March 14-16 and 21-23, with matinees at 2 p.m. Sunday, plus March 10 and 17

Where: State Theater, 202 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia

Tickets: $35, $32 for seniors and military, $20 for students and youth; for the Wednesday performance, pay what you can.

More information: 360-786-0151, harlequinproductions.org.

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