Tell me. I want to know. Why won’t you tell me? I need to know. I have to know.
Oh, I’m sorry you told me. Why did you tell me? I wish I didn’t know that.
The impulses behind those sentences have animated every human being who has walked this planet. And the odds are that, in some form or another, those instincts percolate throughout your waking hours every day.
It’s enough to keep anyone’s head in full spin. Especially now, when the distribution and consumption of data have assumed the proportions of a Tower of Babel that seems ready to topple at any moment.
Such is the dizzying premise behind Love and Information, the thought-churning, deeply poignant play by Caryl Churchill, playing at Frank Theatre January 30 through February 22. Make that 57—count ’em, 57—plays, which occupy a concentrated two (uninterrupted) hours of stage time, with a cast embodying more than a hundred questioning, frustrated, fascinated characters.
Artistic Director Wendy Knox details how the piece deals with love on all kinds of levels, from sibling to romantic (same-sex or otherwise), and it also deals with information on all kinds of levels, from personal to technological. “It also looks at our hunger for both love and information in the various aspects of our lives, and how they can inform each other,” she says.
How deeply can the show delve into content when there are 57 micro-scenes? According to Knox, the content is something that is thematic and something that the audience has to piece together. She says, “The show will mean different things to different people, different scenes will impact people in different ways. I think this piece is like a kaleidoscope of various factors of contemporary life. No, I don’t think the show is meant to be confusing, but it does require participation on the audiences’ part in terms of putting the puzzle pieces together.”
Leave it to Churchill to come up with a work that so ingeniously and exhaustively mirrors our age of the splintered attention span. Throughout her career, which covers more than four decades, this British playwright has proven herself in creating expressly topical works in which form and function are one.
Churchill also famously never discusses her work, refusing interviews and leaving interpretations and analysis of the work’s meaning up to the audience. Knox offers her opinion: “Churchill’s a very smart writer and one who has tremendously impacted the form of contemporary theatre. I can’t even guess what she was trying to accomplish, but she has accomplished a fascinating play that once again reinvents a theatrical form.”
With 57 scenes ranging from only a few lines to a few pages of script, Churchill has given Knox and her team a challenge of interpreting her work. Knox shares, “There are no character descriptions, no stage directions. So right now, the entire cast is around the table, trying to figure out what the scenes are about, what impact age, gender, race, and class all have on the scenes as we mix up the casting. It’s an enormous challenge which is really thrilling and exciting.” At the time of press, the creative team and cast are still working out how scenery and costuming come into play, something Knox says the audience will have to wait to see.
Each of Love and Information’s self-contained segments, some of which are only seconds long, deals with the ways we lust for, process and reject knowledge. At the same time, it teases, thwarts and gluts its audience’s capacity to assimilate the forms of information it considers.
Information and knowledge impacts how we understand the world and each other. “The play deals with all kinds of information in the various arenas of life, and how we as humans interact with that information,” Knox says. “Sometimes we get good information, sometimes bad. Sometimes information is purely technical, sometimes highly personal. Sometimes we block information, sometimes we misinterpret information. All of those things happen in life, and the play explores all of them and paints a picture of how we interact with each other.”
Some characters speak the language of science and mathematics. Others talk in the easygoing shorthand of people who have known one another for a long time. Some are blessed with total recall, while others can’t remember who they are. There are scenes that are as contemporary as cellphones and Edward J. Snowden, and as eternal as humanity itself.
Churchill and her work has had a huge impact on Frank Theatre, which has staged three of her pieces (Top Girls, Mad Forest, and Vinegar Tom). Knox has also directed Churchill’s Cloud Nine twice at other venues. “I am drawn to her as a playwright because she’s so very smart, is politically astute, and is so diligent in reinventing theatrical form and her own writing,” Knox says. “With this piece, she touches on so many facets of contemporary life and relationships, and she allows us the opportunity to create our own collective understanding of the work, which is a challenge that Frank thrives on.”