caryl churchill

Nothing & everything has changed

Vertigo's spot-on take on Caryl Churchill's "Love and Information" churns through the new realities of a data-besotted modern culture

You may forget but

Let me tell you

this: someone in

some future time

will think of us

– Sappho

*

Theatre Vertigo, in its little Shoebox Theatre space, is performing Caryl Churchill’s Love and Information, a play with no stage directions, a dozen actors, 100 parts, and 57 scenes in 90 minutes.

At this second more than 1,900,000 Google searches have been performed today. In 2009, the New York Times reported: “The report suggests the average American consumes 34 gigabytes of content and 100,000 words of information in a single day. (Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” is only 460,000 words long.) This doesn’t mean we read 100,000 words a day — it means that 100,000 words cross our eyes and ears in a single 24-hour period. That information comes through various channels, including the television, radio, the Web, text messages and video games.”

Kimo Camat, Joe Healy, Shawna Nordman, leaping through the stories. Photo: Gary Norman

Kimo Camat, Joe Healy, Shawna Nordman, leaping through the stories. Photo: Gary Norman

We swim in a sea of fragments of information, sometimes fully afloat, heading to beautiful unimagined shores; at other times forever aching to go back a second before in the wake of violent histories unfolding. This delicate dance would be almost impossible to explain to a person living one hundred years ago. Our need to know, our fear that we have no connections, the intense and elaborate technologies against the reality of our bodies, has created a dramatic debate.

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The ‘Love and Information’ overload

Caryl Churchill's elliptical play opens San Francisco's new Strand Theater.

Please please tell me

No

Please because I’ll never

Two friends stand together, maybe at a bus stop. One tells the other that she has a secret that she can’t reveal to anyone. The second woman cajoles and inveigles and finally the first whispers into her ear. Her eyes grow wide at the revelation. But what does she do now?

Unlike the characters in this opening scene of Love and Information, the audience never learns the secret. But the scene sets the stage for the rest of British playwright Caryl Churchill’s 2012 play: with so much information available, do we really need to know as much as we think we do?

L–R: Joel Bernard, Dominique Salerno, and Christina Liang in ACT's production of Caryl Churchill's Love and Information. Photo: Kevin Berne.

L–R: Joel Bernard, Dominique Salerno, and Christina Liang in ACT’s production of Caryl Churchill’s Love and Information. Photo: Kevin Berne.

The 90-minute, no-intermission show, running through August 9 at San Francisco’s revived Strand Theater, comprises 57 mostly unrelated vignettes—some as brief as a few sentences—divided into seven sections and performed by a dozen very busy actors. (The Strand’s revival by one of San Francisco’s most important theater companies, American Contemporary Theater, is also newsworthy for West Coast theater—see below.) Ranging from five seconds to five minutes short, some scenes are funny (teenage girls giddily crushing on a teen idol), some poignant (a woman gets a terrifying diagnosis from a physician; a son learns that the woman he thought was his older sister is actually his mother), some trivial (a couple bicker about whether to go over to another couple’s house). One scene, in its entirety: [Someone sneezes.]

It’s the theatrical equivalent of a novel written in tweets, or a TV episode compiled from constant channel surfing, an album made of 30-second song previews … take your pick from any of today’s rapid-fire media phenomena. It’s a thrill ride—until it isn’t.

We’ve all been bombarded by the news that we’re all being bombarded by information these days, so much that we’re risking info overload about info overload. Do we really need to be shown it onstage? Does a theatrical presentation of TMI + ADD = WTF? How many short sketches do we need to experience to really get the point that our info-ADDled society is destroying our attention spans, our ability to form or sustain relationships, even our ability to focus on… uh, what was I saying again?

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Theater review: ‘Far Away’ and close to home

Shaking The Tree takes Caryl Churchill's End Times political fantasy for a spin

The cast of Shaking the Tree’s “Far Away”: (l to r) Patricia Hunter, Annabel Cantor, Beth Thompson, John San Nicolas./Sheri Earnhart

The shrieking had awakened Joan. An owl, Aunt Harper offers. No, she’s seen people. A party, Harper offers. Then why was Uncle bundling children into the shed? And hitting them with a metal stick? And what about the blood?

Uncle only hit the traitors, Harper offers, finally.

Caryl Churchill’s “Far Away” is THAT sort of play, a Caryl Churchill play, a fable with political implications along with the psychological. Its episodes start off in the ordinary world, with Harper writing a note and drinking her tea in a cozy little nook at home, say, and then start describing a world outside that is fantastic and horrible. And then we in the audience start assembling those stories in our own minds. We puzzle over the descriptions we’ve received, piece them together and recoil from them once it all starts to sink in.

Maybe we also laugh, I did during Shaking The Tree’s production on Saturday night, maybe a little nervously, because everything sounded so crazy.

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