Sunday, October 30, 2016

Love, Love, Love

Every so often, especially when you don't get too close or take them too seriously, selfish people can be enormously entertaining company. In Love, Love, Love, Mike Bartlett's short, lacerating play currently running at the Roundabout, Kenneth (Richard Armitage) and Sandra (Amy Ryan) are some of the most endearing and amusing awful people you're likely to hang with anytime soon. And as my co-blogger Wendy points out in her non-review review of the first preview, even when this utterly self-involved couple is being particularly awful, they're still pretty damned hard to hate. Unless, of course, you are related to them, which is at least occasionally a very different story altogether.

Wendy describes the basic plot in her writeup of the show, which follows Kenneth and Sandra's relationship over what seems to be about fifty years, so I won't rehash it here. But I will reiterate her rave of Amy Ryan's performance, which I agree is superb. Don't get me wrong--the rest of the cast is terrific, too. But Ryan's character is the glue that holds the ensemble together, and this is all the more challenging since her Sandra needs to be loopy and endearing enough not to alienate, while still being inconsiderate and unthinking enough to believably inflict lasting pain on the people who love her. It's a razor-thin line Ryan walks, and she makes it look easy and natural.

The play itself may not be a masterpiece, but it's solid and compelling. It's a tough sell, in some respects: the characters' sadness builds over the course of the three short acts, so the broadest, easiest belly laughs diminish over time. The last act is the saddest, and focuses almost entirely on Kenneth and Sandra's two grown and clearly damaged children: the disillusioned, tightly-coiled Rose (Zoe Kazan) and the vacant, alcoholic Jamie (Ben Rosenfeld). And while I appreciated (and very much agree with) the play's implication that humans are shaped by both nature and nurture, I nevertheless wouldn't argue that this is a terribly startling or profound message, or one that offers much in the way of insight into the fate of the characters. Nor is it terribly new news that the middle class is declining steadily: it is, and it's become regular fodder for playwrights these days. Then again, as far as characters go, the ones in Love, Love, Love are memorable, curiously endearing, and beautifully rendered.

I saw Love, Love, Love with my parents--who are Kenneth and Sandra's contemporaries and who spent the two short intermissions reminiscing about old friends and acquaintances the characters reminded them of--and my teenage daughter, who was highly entertained and, while keenly aware of Kenneth and Sandra's faults, not convinced that their lousy parenting was entirely to blame for their children's shortcomings. Me? I came away from Love, Love, Love feeling twice relieved: on the one hand, I'm grateful that my parents, while of course not perfect, were nevertheless way more insightful and giving than Kenneth and Sandra are. And on the other hand, my daughter's reaction to the show gives me hope that someday, just maybe, no matter how much her dad and I screw her and her brother up, she'll be grudingly willing to let us off the hook for some of our very worst behaviors.

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