Toward the middle of Caryl Churchill’s “Love and Information,” the 19th season opener for Remy Bumppo Theatre Company, a woman who is either hearing impaired, or attempting to communicate with someone who cannot hear, carries a box of Whitman Sampler chocolates. As she runs through the ASL gestures for “I love you,” actress and Bumppo Artistic Associate Linda Gillum pleads with her eyes. Understand me. It’s a lovely scene.
The Whitman’s Sampler is a handy metaphor for the play as a whole, another piece of fresh, interesting work from one of the best mid-size theater operations in Chicago. Directed by Shawn Douglass, the production is a study, per press materials, of “the ways in which the desire for information both distances and unites us.”
Douglass leverages a flawless cast of 10 to slip into the skin of 125 characters, each one part of a vignette that underscores the myriad ways in which knowing and not knowing cause pain and pleasure in human relationships. This might sound quite busy, and indeed Theater 3 at the Greenhouse Theater Center is hardly cavernous. Yet toward the end of the production’s opening night, I found myself comparing it with the recent Broadway in Chicago mounting of “Dirty Dancing – the Classic Story on Stage.”
That big budget effort was an awkward, vertigo-inducing attempt to leave out nothing at all from the beloved film that serves as its base. It just didn’t work. “Love and Information” has arguably more scenes than any stage production I’ve ever audited and yet, it’s a bullseye. Why is that? Because of the oh so light touch, the lack of wink-wink knowingness, the sheer poetry of the source material. A Whitman’s Sampler replaced with the finest, most delicate truffles.
Remy Bumppo’s Producing Artistic Director Nick Sandys observes of the play, “There are no settings, speech headings, or character descriptions in the text. All of those decisions… must come from the director and the design team.” And what a wonderful bunch of arrangements Douglass and his staff have made. It doesn’t hurt one iota that he’s assembled a beautiful cast with the ability to, quite literally, become different people in the blink of an eye. And we believe it.
In addition to Gillum’s work, which I have enjoyed across several seasons of Bumppo theater, I can’t say enough about the talents of yet another Artistic Associate, David Darlow. To watch him move through “Love and Information” is to laugh, have your heart broken, to feel everything in the course of the production’s one hour, 40-minute run time. Although he just one man in an immensely capable ensemble, it’s hard to move your eyes away when he’s on stage. Totally vulnerable yet commanding — the Darlow brand.
This show is different. Fans of linear plot, of context, of narrative arc might find themselves frustrated. I urge these theatergoers to try to get past it. As Sandys suggested before the first curtain rise, “take the ride.” Although one might not connect with every scene, you’ll find yourself nodding your head in silent agreement often. Who among us hasn’t been on the receiving end of pleas from a loved one — share with me, open yourself to me — only to feel the sting of rejection and regret when that data proved to be more than the listener really wanted?
If I have any quibble with the production, it’s this: that one hour, 40-minute running time has no intermission. While I completely understand the decision not to interrupt the “story,” the theater does serve beverages. Make sure you’ve visited the restroom before the curtain rises.
But really, that’s all I’ve got for criticism. “Love and Information” is another Remy Bumppo winner.
“Love and Information” runs through November 1 at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N Lincoln Avenue, Chicago, IL. For information or tickets, call 773-404-7336 or visit the Remy Bumppo website.