Although the term ‘love’ is volleyed back and forth more times than your average Wimbledon match, your exposure to the word in Murray Schisgal’s LUV won’t make you any wiser to its meaning. In fact, hearing the word ‘love’ so many times renders the emotion utterly ridiculous.
As the title suggests, we are gifted with a rather infantile reading of ‘love’. Within this world the feeling is akin to how you might have felt towards your crush when you were 13, etching their name onto a piece of paper and swearing its permanency before hurling that same scrap into a bin before the school day is out. Here, the word ‘love’ is temporary and people are fickle.
The stage itself is suitable shallow; Park 90 is not the most spacious of small theatres and in this instance the majority of room is donated to the audience. Max Dorey’s set design has the back wall lit up with swirls of clouds and dying light that would delight a shepherd – and it certainly tickled a couple of audience members who were sufficiently impressed as to capture it on their phones. The scene is a boardwalk leading to a bridge across the Hudson River. Harry (Charles Dorfman) is the first to enter, dressed in clothes that dwarf his frame, with brown trousers held up by a thick rope. He’s reached the end and has come to jump off the barrier into the freezing cold water, his low voice bellowing with regret towards a life unfulfilled. At this moment, Milt (Nick Barber), an old school friend, slinks in. He is Harry’s opposite and is as sleek as they come, thrusting his hands down his trousers to lift up his silk boxer shorts in a boastful gesture declaring their decadence.
Competition appears to be Milt’s main love and Harry, with less enthusiasm, plays the same game. The state of their lives soon becomes a competition; they’ve both come from the same patch of soil but Milt has risen up like a dutiful flower and Harry has become tangled in his roots. Yet Milt’s boasting of success is soon replaced by a new game of vying for the position of most downtrodden. It’s a scene reliant on physical comedy as they stalk the stage in single file. Although there were many laughs from the audience, it remained feeling like an exchange of pleasantries rather than a scene being side-splittingly executed. The nostalgia of comedy like this appears to warrant a warm smile rather than a full-on belly laugh.
The crux of Milt’s woes revolves around love. He is in love with Linda but married to Ellen (Elsie Bennett). Given that love is the elixir of life, and his newly re-found friend Harry is lacking the will to live, he concludes that manipulating Harry to fall in love with Ellen is the answer to all of their problems. Miraculously they do, only Milt isn’t too happy with his new circumstances. It turns out that actually Linda’s not that great after all. He wants Ellen back.
Director Gary Condes competently sends up the fickleness of human nature and mocks the rotating lovers. The cast are agile on stage, propelling the absurdity forward, greatly complemented by punchy sound design by Richard Hammarton. The trouble is that the nostalgia trip feels a little misguided. Moments where Ellen sits in a black turtleneck and cigarette pants reading The Second Sex work to mock the state of gender politics at the time. However when matched with her claim that she has a masculine intelligence and her yearning for domesticity with a decent man, you wonder why they didn’t update the version more thoroughly. Her plucky performance is likeable, but the actual character is fairly deplorable.
It’s a mash-up of genres, part-musical, part-absurdist and part-comedy. There are shadows of Edward Albee; like with The Zoo Story a dog is a cause of much anxiety for a damaged man on the edge. One can imagine that under Mike Nichol’s direction, back in the sixties on Broadway, the play was fiery and funny, but the trouble is that this version is that it’s not slick or imaginative enough. It’s the type of play that comes with instructions about when to laugh and what to feel.
LUV is on at the Park Theatre until 7th January 2017. Click here for more details.