This is a delightful, if long, analysis of Allison’s take on her #LLLPlay experiences. Part II will be posted this evening. Enjoy. And please send hr love and comments
I had the pleasure of seeing Love, Love, Love at The Roundabout Theatre in New York on Sunday, October 2. I’m able to get to New York as a day trip via a short train ride, and so last summer I bought tickets for a few Sunday matinees over the fall. This performance was not one of the ones I’d planned, however; I bought the ticket five days prior when I saw a front row center seat come open. I’m not normally a fan of either impulse purchases or super-close-up theater seating, but it turns out to have been a great decision. When I first got to my seat, I was actually rather alarmed, as it was so close to the stage as to feel exposed, like I would somehow be intruding on the performance. But once the play started I loved being so near to the action – including, yes, Richard’s.
Let me say up front that Richard is really a delight in this play. As fans know by this point, it’s a domestic piece, and despite its serious themes and strong emotions, it’s also a highly comedic piece with stretches that are quite light. As this is not territory Richard has explored a lot in his recent career, it was refreshing to see him do it, and do it well. The fact that he played the same character at three different ages over 40 years made it feel like I’d gotten a 3-for-1 Armitage coupon (topping the Hannibal twofer): surely this huge acting challenge was very appealing for him in taking the role, and it was fascinating to watch him age as he shifted his voice, speech, energy level, posture, and movement over the three acts. His comedic timing is terrific, as are the many ways his face expresses emotions apart from his words.
I was especially taken with his 19-year-old Kenneth. When first I saw the photos of him in the dressing gown and groovy hairdo, I was still thinking subconsciously of 45-year-old Richard inhabiting them, but live he paints a character that is wonderfully bright-eyed, mischievous, cocky, self-righteous, flirtatious, and ready to take on the world. His voice is a little higher (ah, the stuff he does with his voice!), and his inflections and movement have a youthful bounce to them. Middle-aged Kenneth most resembles present-day Richard, so his overall physical bearing felt more familiar, although you can also feel the weight of life that’s come down on him. That weight has been lifted emotionally in retired/long-divorced Richard, although age and the leisurely pace of his world make him move more slowly physically.
I knew Amy Ryan was a good actress from seeing her in a few movies, and had read great things about her performance as Sandra. She did not disappoint, whether delivering lines that were cruel, funny, or both at once. She also covered the three ages well. She played the role a tad more deadpan than what I had in my head when I read the play, but it was more effective her way, and actually more biting.
Zoe Kazan was a real revelation for me. She is just spot-on as Rose, conveying many different degrees of bitterness as she moves from being a whiny, pained teenager to an adult full of accumulated, deep-seated rage. She’s just enough over the top to make you ask yourself whether she’s a brat or a victim. There are many moments when her anger boils just under the surface, requiring her to well up and “almost cry” – how does one do that on demand night after night? I was impressed. The two supporting male roles, Alex Hurt as Henry and Ben Rosenfield as Jamie, were also strong, but took a back seat to the other three actors.
Boy, this play has really stayed with me and made me think about a lot of things – that’s why I took to writing all this down a week after seeing it. I’ve loved the variety of answers given by the playwright, director, and actors when asked “What is this play about?” Certainly at the center is a swipe at the baby boomer generation for abandoning their idealism in self-absorption, and in a way that also causes them to abandon their children, who are struggling to find their way economically and emotionally as adults. To me that giving up of dreams and ideals and revolution was not just about selfishness, but also a naiveté and laziness about both the hard work of responsibility that comes with adulthood and the hard work of actually “changing the system.” (Aside: I’ve been thinking about Bernie Sanders after seeing this play; while I admired his support for millennials, ironically I thought too much of his proposed “revolution” was that of an over-idealistic baby boomer. Just sayin’.)
The tendency to want to view this play through the very personal lens of one’s own generational experience is both a blessing and a curse. Everyone seeing the play has lived through at least some of the same times and will agree or disagree with some aspect of the play based on that. (As a GenXer, I definitely related to Rose’s “wait, I can’t really have it all” frustrations as a working woman.) And this high level of audience engagement is a really good thing for any piece of art. But I hope that people will also try to think about the play beyond their own experience, as while Bartlett has a lot of strong views, he also leaves a lot of questions in the generational debate open-ended and has other points to make, too.
I think Bartlett also cautions against the oversimplification of generational labels, including with hints like the Paul McCartney quote cited by Kenneth in Act II about musical genres all being the same thing. A bigger way that Bartlett does this that I really liked was the dichotomy between Jamie and Rose in the third act. On the one hand, they are two sides of the same Gen X/Y coin, but they differ in important ways. It’s almost as if Jamie is the younger generation as seen by baby boomers: an unmotivated layabout who drifts in and out of jobs and relationships, and is content with sponging off his “buddy”/father (though Kenneth and Sandra keep insisting he’s doing fine, one of a long list of their problematic parenting practices). Rose, by contrast, felt more like how many Gen X/Yers see themselves: working themselves to the bone with no long-term payoff of marriage, family, home, financial security, or job satisfaction – and deeply unhappy and resentful about it.
A question the play made me wonder about is to what extent love itself – and how we give it, receive it, desire it, even withhold it – is in fact a function of its time, as opposed to something more universally human. The answer, of course, is “yes.” A core feature of the play is the selfish nature of Kenneth’s and Sandra’s love for each other. Their original spark was very classic and very real (and very convincingly played by Armitage and Ryan). But in its time it’s also a love that has each of them turning on Henry in the first act, betraying each other in the second, and refusing to help their adult daughter in the third. It’s a love that thrives on dreams of adventure early and late in life but fizzles with the hard reality of responsibility in between. But was Sandra’s selfishness unique to her being born when she was? She seemed to me like she would have been a jerk in any generation. Kenneth, though, showed flashes of caring in Act II, whether in his commitment to being at Rose’s recital, or his initial shock at the idea of a divorce (despite his cheating); would that caring have evolved differently in a different age?
Another issue woven throughout the play is the implosion of the family and personal relations over recent generations. Kenneth’s and Sandra’s infidelities and the ease with which they divorced are the obvious examples, but there are others. By Act III, social media has replaced some real-life bonds for Jamie (whose sort-of girlfriend is off in Australia) and Sandra. Rose clearly doesn’t keep in close touch with her family, and is stung when she learns Kenneth and Jamie were in London to see Wicked and never contacted her. And what about poor Henry? Although he never appears in person after Act I, his presence remains in odd ways, like when Kenneth suggests that the family invite him to one of Rose’s recitals. Why hasn’t he been invited to any before she’s 16, and why is this the first time his common interest with Rose is coming up? Henry of course does appear, technically, in the final scene – in an urn, an un-subtle jab at the death of his generation. But what was Henry’s fate over those 40 years? If his brother was taking care of his ashes, does it mean Henry never had his own family? (For some reason the presence of that urn kept making me want to giggle and say, “Hi, Henry!” By the way, in the script there’s no urn, just reference to Henry’s funeral. Has there been an urn in other productions?)
Whether or not it was because it was still previews, there were little quirks in the performance of the kind that make live theater fun: in Act I Alex Hurt stumbled badly on a word and during one set of rapid-fire dialogue with Amy Ryan, Richard fired a little early and seemed to catch himself. Richard had to dust himself off a few times – when cigarette ashes fell on his bare chest and when crumbs from Sandra’s histrionic cake-cutting flew into his lap. When Richard entered Act II his jacket collar was up in a way I don’t think it was supposed to be, though he soon takes the jacket off anyway (but it’s the kind of thing where you think to yourself how badly you want to lean over to the stage and whisper, “pssst!” and gesture toward the back of your neck).
All in all, a very rewarding theater experience, and an exciting opportunity to see Richard do what he does best. I’m grateful that I’ll have the chance to see the play again and continue to ponder it!