Monday, February 16, 2009

Love/Stories (or, But You Will Get Used To It)

Photo/Joan Marcus

The danger of writing, after that first initial flash, is that what you create will never be as close to that vision of perfection. Itamar Moses, no stranger to meta-drama and post-modern conventions (in which art comments on itself), must have had one hell of an initial flash, because his collection of one-acts is still pretty brilliant. In Love/Stories (or, But You Will Get Used To It), Moses works through the worries of a post-modern age by, appropriately enough, getting post-post-modern on them.

He begins, simply enough, with a prerecorded introduction, then enters into a "modern" play and a playful monologue before getting into the post-post-modern play-within-a-commentary-within-a-play. After some final thoughts on love as theater and theater as love, he ends with the depressingly sincere "Better never to begin." It's all exceptionally handled by the five-man ensemble of Bats (the repertory actors of The Flea), whose youth allows them to grasp the circuitous and often broken logic of the characters, and Michelle Tattenbaum, whose previous direction of Moses's work has taught her to let the words speak for themselves. (Joe Chapman's lighting non-intrusively juggles the various levels of "post.")

Moses's self-reference allows him to get away with a lot: for instance, the plot of "Chemistry Read," in which a writer tries to avoid casting the guy who stole the girl he wrote the play for, is justified by being demonstrably shallow. "Temping" uses the author's hyperrealistic ramblings--we've all heard halves of telephone conversations like this before--to heighten an otherwise banal breakup. And it's all uphill from there.

The centerpiece, "Authorial Intent," breaks a metaphor up three ways. Theatrically, B warns of overlearning--that is, knowing so much that your enjoyment is no longer pure--and A responds by breaking up with him: the man she's allowed to move in is no longer man she loves ("the you who doesn't live here"). Post-post-modernly, A and B speak only in literal subtext: "DEVICE: Costume Change i.e. 'B returns without his jacket and tie.' OBJECTIVE: Permission To Tell Lengthy Story TACTIC: Insistence Upon Lack of Desire to Tell Lengthy Story." "Realistically," the show has now ended, and the actors, Laurel (Holland) and Michael (Micalizzi), question their policy of not dating actors, wondering if there's perhaps some truth they can share after all--a measure of real knowledge that will transform them without destroying what they feel.

The second half of the title (or, But You Will Get Used To It) comes from "Szinhaz," as a Soviet director equates the strict suffering of his craft with the love he feels for his translator, finding that his consuming love can only adequately be expressed by stripping everything away into a silence. It's a silence that continues into "Untitled Short Play," as the evening's narrator (a bravura performance by John Russo), launches into a series of scene-delaying clarifications, mirroring the author's worry, indecision, and frustration at the unknowability of it all: " on earth could some lame scene where two people just talk to each other get more than thimble-deep into anything that remotely resembles anything that even comes within a country mile of an approximation of the barest outline of the feelings that gave rise to the need to write this..."

He has, of course, answered his own question--if it were ever really a question--with Love/Stories. (Or, But You Will Regret Not Seeing This If You Don't Go Now.)

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